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Common Diseases Of The Elderly

Jan. 23, 2020

No one likes to admit they are getting older, even when they begin to experience clinical signs of age-based diseases. A common response is, “Well…what do expect…I’m no kid anymore….” This kind of response to experiencing troubling physical symptoms should not be shrugged off – it should be taken seriously – since there are many geriatric diseases that can be treated effectively if caught early enough.

In truth, Americans are living longer then ever before. With proper geriatric care, one can expect to not only live longer, but also enjoy a fuller and healthier life. While there is still no cure for “aging” and none expected anytime soon, the elder adult along with his or her loved ones must be ever vigilant in detecting unusual behavior and symptoms of geriatric disease. In addition, loved ones must be made aware age-induced diseases that can have multiple causes effecting different parts of the body. No doubt, being this vigilant makes caring for an elder more difficult, especially if the elder is already on different types of medications.

Demand For Elderly Care Growing

Doctors who care for the elderly are called Geriatricians. Given the fact that most baby-boomers have now reached or are quickly reaching their senior years, the demand and need for quality geriatric care has never been more critical. This growing demand has spurred on intense efforts in the development of new and more effective drugs, medical technology and geriatric treatment options.

What To Look For In Caring For An Elder

Here are some of the most common signs of geriatric disease. When you see them, be sure to contact your eldercare physician as soon as possible.

Trouble Swallowing: certain age-related changes such as aphasia and dementia can make swallowing problematic for the elder. The elder could have suffered a series of mini-strokes, which, if goes unnoticed, could worsen and become dangerously problematic. An assessment by a Speech Pathologist is often the first step in diagnosing such a problem. Swallowing difficulties can lead to malnutrition, choking and aspiration. Malnutrition not only eliminates body fat, it can lead to degeneration of muscle, loss of immunity and bone density. These conditions can lead to falls and physical trauma, which often leads to serious disability and sometimes death.

Incontinence: this is the loss of bladder and bowel control. This can be a sign of a urinary tract infection, (UTI) which is quite common for elders that are sedentary. A UTI can turn into a very dangerous condition if the infection is not caught in time and is allowed to spread. The UTI can also manifest symptoms that could otherwise be interpreted as dementia and lethargy. If the infection is allowed to fester and enter the blood stream, the risk of sepsis, infection in the blood itself, can lead to death, especially if the infection strain is resistant to antibiotics.

Dementia: the condition of Dementia usually presents as a state of confusion accompanied by both short and long term memory loss. It is a degenerative condition that often worsens with age.Seek medical attention right away at the first sign of any sudden changes in mental status and function.

Alzheimers: this neurological disease is usually considered a form of dementia and is can be caused by small and often unnoticeable min-strokes affecting different parts of the brain, but mostly the parts dealing with organization, memory and perception. The onset of Alzheimer disease can begin slowly and rapidly accelerate, leading to loss of body function and even death. There are diagnostic modalities that can assist the neurologist or geriatrician in diagnosing its presence and degree. But unfortunately, unless it is caught early, the disease can progress quite quickly. There are promising new medications that can to slow the progression if caught early enough. Ultimately, Alzheimer’s disease remains incurable.

Decline In Vision: other then normal vision problems associated with aging such as nearsightedness or farsightedness, the most dangerous forms of vision loss can be caused by glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetes. Of these three, the least dangerous is cataracts and which is treated with surgery. Remember, vision problems can also lead to falls and consequently physical trauma, which for the elderly person, can worsen due to an already weakened immune system.

Osteoporosis: women 65 and older, and men over age 70 who have an increased risk for osteoporosis, should get a bone mass density (BMD) test as soon as they can. Increased calcium and vitamin D intake, strength training exercises, and weight-bearing exercises such as walking are important to keeping your bones healthy. Your healthcare provider may also recommend medications or other treatments to strengthen the bones and help you lead a more healthy life.

Decubitus Ulcers: also known as “bed sores” and “pressure ulcers” are skin and tissue damage caused by constant pressure on “skin” and the “soft tissue” underneath it. This condition is often associated with elders who are bedridden and whose skin is already thinning and more susceptible to sheering and tearing. It is absolutely critical that you contact your geriatrician at the very first signs of reddening of the skin. This is often referred to as a “stage one” ulcer. The “second stage” is the opening of the skin; the “third stage” is the deepening of the wound, such that, the subcutaneous tissue such as muscle can be seen. In “stage four” wounds, the most dangerous of the three, the actual bone can be seen through the wound. These stages cannot be reversed and often lead to serious infection and ultimately death unless treated at the very earliest stages of the condition.

Finally, if you are caring for an elder, you must be keenly aware of these and other dangerous and potentially life threatening conditions. Most, if detected and treated early, can be resolved resulting in a longer and healthier life.