Health Problems of the Older Person

January 01, 2015

Armed with proper knowledge about what health changes to expect in older age, along with proper prevention, care, and planning, older persons can live longer and healthier lives.

As people age, tissues and organs deteriorate, causing inevitable health problems. Knowing what to expect and how to take action in preventing or minimizing problems leads to overall better health in the senior years.

“We divide geriatric health problems into two major groups,” says Dr. Lily Chaisompong, who specializes in geriatric medicine at the .New Life Healthy Aging Clinic“The first comprises common diseases that may be found at the younger ages such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney diseases, but that can become more serious and complicated with age. The second group comprises age-related geriatric syndromes, which can decrease a senior’s self-care ability.

Geriatric syndromes:


1. Confusion and amnesia 

Memory loss and slower thinking come with age. However, acute health problems such as infections, heart, or brain conditions can trigger mental disorientation and confusion. Finding and treating the underlying illnesses usually brings the changes back to normal.


However, a more gradual and insidious change in an older person’s mood, behavior, or memory may signal the onset of dementia.The warning signs of dementia include difficulty learning or remembering new things, repeating words or questions, the inability to perform complicated tasks, getting lost or forgetting familiar places, no interest in socializing, speaking less, and a change of habits.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but others include stroke, Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism, and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Prevention and care

Consult with a doctor if the patient exhibits changes in thinking and memory that impact daily life. Dementia is incurable, but brain-stimulating activities such as doing light household chores, socializing with friends and family, reading, playing mental games such as crossword puzzles, and physical exercise can help to slow its progression.


2. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, a silent and insidious disease that causes loss of bone mass and makes bones brittle, shows no early symptoms. Patients generally only become aware of it if they happen to fall and suffer bone fractures. Postmenopausal women and men of over 70 years of age are particularly at risk.

Prevention and care

  • Women over 55 and men over 70 should get tested for bone mineral density (BMD), which indicates the density of bone mass in comparison to its normal ratio in younger adults.
  • Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Get tested for a deficiency, and if found, take vitamin D supplements.
  • Ingest foods high in calcium or supplements of 1,000 milligrams per day.
  • Practice weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, or lifting light weights.
  • If diagnosed with osteoporosis, get treatment to reduce the risk of bone fractures.


3. Equilibrium (balance) problems and accidental falls

Balance problems that lead to falls have several causes. These include joint degeneration, muscular atrophy or weakness, brain diseases, a decrease in blood pressure when getting up from a sitting or lying position, cardiac arrhythmias, medications affecting blood pressure or causing drowsiness, living environments with insufficient light, hazardous furniture, or sloping, slippery, or wet areas.

Balance problems or accidental falls are especially dangerous for older patients with osteoporosis. Falls can easily cause bone fractures which can lead to a multitude of problems and complications such as the need for surgery and prolonged hospital stays.

Prevention and care

  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or low blood pressure.
  • Do exercises that focus on muscular strength and balance.
  • Improve the safety of the living environment, such as by installing sufficient lighting, non-slip flooring, and handrails.
  • Have a bone density test for osteoporosis and receive treatment as necessary.


4. Insomnia

Sleep problems are very common as we age, due to worsening quality of sleep. These may include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking, unrestful sleep, and feeling unrefreshed in the morning. Causes of poor sleep quality include aging physiology, depression, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, acid reflux, respiratory problems, snoring, frequent urination, and the side effects of medications.

Insomnia increases the probability of falls, depression, and an impaired immune system, which can lead to other health problems.

Prevention and care

  • Design the bedroom to promote better sleep, for example, use curtains and bedclothes with calm and solid colors, and always make sure the room temperature is neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Try to sleep in the same place and at the same time every night to regulate the body clock.
  • Don’t go to sleep too early. The best hours to go to bed are from 21.00 to 22.00, and to wake up are from 4.00 to 5.00. 
  • Drink water first thing in the morning and throughout the day. Reduce water intake after dinner to decrease night time urination; avoid caffeinated drinks after 14.00.
  • Don’t take long afternoon naps. Instead, do a stimulating activity such as chatting with friends. If you have fatigue or drowsiness, take a short nap no later than 15.00.
  • Ask your doctor to review any medications that may cause insomnia, or any other factors that may lead to insomnia as well.
  • Use sleeping pills only under a doctor’s supervision. Prolonged use can cause dependence.


5. Urinary and fecal incontinence

Urinary or fecal incontinence results from many factors such as pelvic muscular weakness or atonicity, overactive bladder, brain and nerve related continence control problems, certain types of medications, infection, constipation, prostatic enlargement, and diabetes.

Prevention and care

  • Consult a doctor to find correctable causes such as bladder infection.
  • Do exercises and movements to strengthen muscles such as clenching the pelvic floor muscle 50 to 100 times a day.
  • Urinate when the urge comes, but if practical, try to extend the time between bathroom visits to train the bladder to hold more urine.


6. Dizziness and vertigo

Older persons are prone to dizziness and vertigo, which frequently lead to falls. Causes include low blood pressure or the side effects of medication (painkillers, tranquilizers, or anticonvulsants), vertigo, cardiac arrhythmias, anemia, and anxiety.

Prevention and care

  • Determine the cause and change the behavior.
  • Move carefully, particularly when standing up from sitting or lying positions.
  • Use canes, crutches, walkers, or handrails to assist with balance.


7. Malnutrition and eating disorders

There are many causes to eating disorders and the insufficient intake of food that leads to malnutrition. They include dental problems, problems with swallowing, decreased appetite, weight loss, diseases and the sideeffects of medications that suppress appetite, depression or dementia, and various chronic diseases. Malnutrition in older persons exacerbates infections and causes osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, and lethargy.

Prevention and care

  • Consult a doctor to find and treat any possible causes.
  • Have a regular dental check-up, at least once a year.
  • Dining with family or friends can improve the appetite and nutrition.
  • Prepare food in easy to eat and digest portions.
  • Have your doctor review your medications and point out those that may suppress appetite.
  • Consult a doctor or nutritionist for recommendations on nutritional supplements and an appropriate diet.


8. Hearing problems

Hearing loss problems are common in older people. Hearing loss warning signs are the inability to perceive high-pitched tones or high-frequency sounds such as a female voice or high-key music, and the inability to understand conversations in noisy venues. Bad hearing degrades the quality of life because it limits social interaction and denies simple pleasures like listening to music or watching TV.

Prevention and care

  • In case of severe hearing loss, where the patient is barely able to perceive sound (especially in both ears) and becomes unable to communicate with others, hearing aids might alleviate the problem.
    • Family, friends, and caregivers should speak closely and slowly, in low tones, and maintain eye contact when talking to older persons. Make sure that they can see the speaker’s lips and choose venues that do not have loud background noise.

9. Vision problems

Diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration can harm an older person’s vision, impacting their quality of life.

Prevention and care

Older persons should have annual eye exams to check for problems before they arise and become untreatable and irreversible. Finding disorders in the early stages results in a better chance for successful treatment. Don’t neglect emotional care. “With so many physical issues involved in elderly care, it’s easy to neglect mental health problems, which are just as equally important,” Dr. Lily says. “Older persons should strive to maintain an active and curious mind and try to avoid emotional stressors. Family members, friends, and caregivers play a key role in helping elders live happily. Treating them with gentleness, compassion, and genuine interest are at the heart of effective care.”

For more information please contact:

Related Health Blogs