5 common ailments to be aware of as you get older
Decreased mobility is something many of us expect to experience during old ageCredit:iStock
Growing older may come with greater wisdom, but it unfortunately also paves the way for an increased number of life-threatening health concerns. While every individual is prone to a unique set of potential health risks depending on genetics, diet and lifestyle, these are five common medical issues you may experience in your 60s and beyond.
Difficulty hearing, or complete hearing loss, is not uncommon over the age of 60. In fact, around 60-75 per cent of people aged over 60 are living with some form of hearing loss .
Common signs include finding it difficult to distinguish voices or conversation in a crowded room or experience a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears, known as tinnitus. “Hearing loss is usually due to degeneration of the cochlea (part of the inner ear concerned with hearing), which is known as presbycusis,” notes Chris Dalton, National Medical Director for Bupa. “The prevalence of presbycusis in ages 65 to 84 is 43 per cent,” he adds. Damage to the cochlea, known as sensorineural hearing loss, is unfortunately irreversible, and in most cases, unavoidable – a simple fact of getting older. However, other types of hearing loss known as conductive hearing loss may be treatable. “This is where there is a problem with sound conducting through the ear canal or across the middle ear to the inner ear. This may be due to fluid in the middle ear or fixation of one of the tiny middle ear hearing bones,” explains Dalton. Solutions for this type of hearing loss may include hearing aids, a bionic ear or surgery; talk to your GP about your options.
Decreased mobility is something many of us expect to experience during old age, and a large part of that may be due to osteoarthritis. “Osteoarthritis is common after the age of 60 and refers to the degeneration and chronic inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues (bones, tendons and ligaments),” shares Dalton. He explains that osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, knees, hips, spine and shoulders, and stiffness in these areas are commonly experienced in the mornings, in addition to pain and swelling, clicking or locking, or limitation of movement. In many cases, the reason for osteoarthritis is simply due to ‘wear and tear’ on the body, as Dalton puts it, but genetic factors, obesity and previous injury may also be to blame. Unsurprisingly, obesity puts undue strain on joints over time so a well-balanced diet and active lifestyle to help keep your weight in a healthy range is essential. Aerobic exercises like swimming and cycling that minimise pressure on these fragile zones, as well strengthening exercises, are also top choices to help improve the mobility of your joints. Your GP may also recommend you get support from a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, or exercise physiologist to help you keeping going about your daily activities as usual. Talk to your healthcare team about what’s best to help you manage arthritis and prevent severe joint degeneration that may require surgery, says Dalton.
The ageing process can leave bones extra fragile. The thinning out of the bone density due to loss of minerals to the point your bones are brittle and more prone to fractures can lead to a condition called osteoporosis. “While there are other complex factors causing this condition, at a microscopic level, bone has a honeycomb-like appearance and with osteoporosis there is a loss of much of the honeycomb structures, depending on how severe it is,” says Dalton. He notes common causes of osteoporosis to be due to hormonal changes in post-menopausal women, complex metabolic problems, and certain medications, especially corticosteroids. Most people won’t know they have osteoporosis without a medical examination so it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to assess your risk factors once you’re over 50, whether male or female. If you have a BMI of less than 20 or you have an increased risk due to other factors, or if you’re a woman over 65, bone density testing may be recommended. To lessen your risk, Dalton suggests eating a healthy diet with the recommended amounts of calcium (1000mg per day from milk and other dairy products) and vitamin D (from milk and salmon) is essential for avoiding and lessening osteoporosis.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the single leading cause of death of older Australians, accounting for 13 per cent of all deaths in people aged 65 and over between 2014– 2016 . The main cause of heart disease is blocked coronary arteries, which are the small arteries on the surface of the heart that supply oxygen to the heart muscle. “Coronary artery disease causes chest pain on exertion, usually a tight feeling in the chest when walking quickly or upstairs. The pain may radiate down the left arm or up into the jaw. Pain from a heart attack is usually more severe, unrelieved by rest and associated with sweating and pale, cold skin, and perhaps feeling short of breath and light-headedness,” explains Dalton. Many factors may be behind heart disease, but the primary suspects are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity or being overweight, and genetic factors. A visit to your GP is highly recommended for regular heart health screenings to monitor your risk potential and any symptoms.
Type 2 diabetes
One function of your blood is to carry glucose to be used as energy in tissues around your body, such as muscle cells. Diabetes is when glucose levels build up in your blood, and in type 2 diabetes this is due to the body’s cells becoming resistant to insulin over time (insulin is essential for absorbing glucose from the blood into the cells). Most people don’t know they have type 2 diabetes as there are often no symptoms in the early stages, although eventually people may have symptoms such as persistent thirst, getting up at night a lot to urinate and blurred vision. These may signal that you should visit your GP for a fasting blood glucose test, but it’s also recommended that people start getting their diabetes risk assessed by their GP every 3 years from age 40 to determine if further testing is required before they even experience any symptoms. “High blood glucose, if chronic, has many serious effects, including nerve and blood vessel damage,” reveals Dalton. A healthy diet and lifestyle are key, as “Being overweight alters the way insulin functions and is produced—having lots of fat cells seems to make you ‘insulin resistant’,” says Dalton.
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 Access Economics, Listen Hear! The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia, (February 2006), p. 5.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2018. Deaths in Australia. Canberra: AIHW.
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