Old age brings with it more opportunity to enjoy life with family and loved ones, the chance to pursue new activities or a long-forgotten passion. However, it is also characterised by multiple health challenges.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people aged 60 years and older will increase from 1 billion in 2019 to 1.4 billion by 2030 and 2.1 billion by 2050. As the world experiences more increase in the population of older people, below are some of the most common health challenges we should take note of

Arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, but it can affect people of all ages, including children.

Arthritis. Photo iStock

Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints. The major symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis causes cartilage — the hard, slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint — to break down. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, beginning with the lining of joints.

Treatments vary depending on the type of arthritis. The main goals of arthritis treatments are to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. Some of the treatments available are: analgesics, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), Menthol or capsaicin creams.
Physical therapy is also effective. This involves exercises that help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint is a core component of arthritis treatment.

Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease characterised by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar).
There are different types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas, where insulin is made. It’s unclear what causes this attack. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin, and sugar builds up in your blood. Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it’s not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes can affect many parts of the body. It’s important to manage diabetes because, over time, it can cause serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, and nerve damage that may lead to amputation. Also, people with type 2 diabetes may be at greater risk for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The general symptoms of diabetes include:

  • increased hunger
  • increased thirst
  • weight loss
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • extreme fatigue
  • sores that won’t heal

Diabetes in old age can be managed effectively and quality of life maintained for a long period.

Oral Health
Oral health is a significant factor affecting older peoples’ quality of life, overall health and wellbeing. Tooth loss, tooth decay (dental caries), gum disease (periodontitis), dry mouth (xerostomia) and oral cancers are commonly experienced by older people.

Healthy tooth. | Image: USC

Discomfort from poor oral health disrupts sleep and the ability to relax. It also affects an older person’s appearance, self-esteem and self-confidence as well as their ability to talk and communicate effectively.

Elderly people are at risk of some of the undermentioned oral health problems:

  • Darkened teeth
  • Dry mouth
  • Diminished sense of taste
  • Root decay
  • Gum disease: Caused by plaque and made worse by food left in teeth, use of tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diets, and certain diseases, such as anaemia, cancer, and diabetes, this is often a problem for older adults.
  • Denture-induced stomatitis: a common form of oral candidiasis (a yeast infection of the mouth). It is more common in elderly people, and in those who wear a complete upper denture.
  • Tooth loss
  • Gum disease

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. It is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in the vessels. Each time the heartbeats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump.

Poorly controlled hypertension is a major contributor to the most common causes of death and disability in older adults: strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure.

Hypertension can be managed by reducing and managing mental stress, regularly checking blood pressure and consulting with health professionals, treating high blood pressure and managing other medical conditions.

Dementia is a term for a collection of symptoms of cognitive decline including disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem-solving, and decision-making that interferes with daily activities.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia in older adults, but there are several causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms may be reversible.
According to WHO, Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.

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