Are These Common Symptoms Part of Aging – or Something Worse?
We recently found an article on the website Kaiser Health News that we think every senior – and those who love and care for a senior – should read. This important article is called “You’re Not Just Growing Old if This Happens to You.” The gist of the article is that many of the so-called symptoms of aging that people tend to put up with as they get older may not be part of “normal aging” at all, but may instead indicate a physical condition, one your doctor can probably treat if you allow him or her to deal with it promptly.
The Kaiser article quotes a physician from the Center for Aging Research at Indiana University, Dr. Christopher Callahan, who says that he often hears a similar refrain from his older patients. They tell him, “I’m tired, doctor. It’s hard to get up and about. I’ve been feeling kind of down, but I know I’m getting old and I just have to live with it.” Callahan calls this a “fatalistic stance” that is based on “widely-held but mistaken assumptions about what constitutes ‘normal aging.’” Too many seniors are convinced that conditions like fatigue, weakness and depression are just normal consequences of growing older, said Callahan, but they’re not. “Instead, they’re a signal that something is wrong and a medical evaluation is in order.”
In our culture, people have the misperception that aging equals decline, but that definitely doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, it’s true, says the Kaiser article, “people’s bodies do change as they get on in years. But this is a gradual process. If you suddenly find your thinking is cloudy and your memory unreliable, if you’re overcome by dizziness and your balance is out of whack, if you find yourself tossing and turning at night and running urgently to the bathroom, don’t chalk it up to normal aging.” Instead, it’s definitely time to see your physician, who (as we always remind our readers, radio listeners and clients) should be a board-certified geriatrician, someone who knows all about the medical and emotional needs of their senior patients.
Here are four familiar conditions that should definitely not be considered “just part of growing older.” When it comes to these common complaints, the sooner you seek diagnosis and treatment, the better.
The first familiar ailment discussed in the Kaiser article is fatigue. Some older people complain that they’re always tired and have no energy. This is hardly unusual: the American Geriatrics Society says just over half of all adults age 51 and older suffer from fatigue at least some of the time. The problem, however, is that being chronically weary only tends to become worse, leading (if untreated) to a loss of independence and a state of social isolation. Don’t assume being tired all the time is just part of aging, because it’s not. Instead, your geriatrician can evaluate possible causes like medication side effects, sleep patterns, blood pressure, and medical conditions such as thyroid problems, and help you regain your vim, vigor and vitality.
Next on the list is loss of appetite. Appetite loss should be a warning sign, not just something you passively accept, especially if you used to enjoy eating. Kaiser Health News says that “between 15 and 30 percent of older adults are believed to have what’s known as the ‘anorexia of aging,’” where appetite deficit leads to unwanted weight loss and a host of other problems. If you feel like you’ve lost interest in eating, see your physician – there may be underlying causes including the effects of medication, dental problems, or even emotional challenges including isolation and depression. One key to restoring your appetite: don’t eat alone. In your younger years, meals were a family affair – so find a way to share your meal times with others.
The third condition some people erroneously accept as a “normal” part of aging is depression. As a society we have tended to think that people tend to become more melancholy as they grow older, but actually the opposite is true: surveys show seniors are happier than their younger peers. Only about 15 percent of seniors in fact suffer from true depression or one of its variants, says Kaiser Health News. Again, depression left untreated can have catastrophic consequences, so if you or a loved one is experiencing chronic sadness or apathy, or grief that never seems to lift, it’s time to see your geriatrician and take positive action.
The final condition too many people simply accept is physical weakness. It’s true that muscle mass gradually decreases with age – but a sudden onset of weakness, when you find you can’t get out of your chair or open a jar lid, is not a normal part of this process. Something else may be going on: culprits can include medication side effects, inflammation, improper diet and a host of other possibilities. But left untreated, weakness only gets worse, often resulting in serious medical injury from falls. Your geriatric physician will help diagnose the cause of your weakness and recommend an appropriate regimen of diet and exercise that will improve your strength, and your outlook on life.
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(originally reported at www.khn.org)