Health Information for Senior Citizens

Chronic diseases exact a particularly heavy health and economic burden on Senior Citizens due to associated long-term illness, diminished quality of life, and greatly increased health care costs. Although the risk of disease and disability clearly increases with advancing age, poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging.

Much of the illness, disability, and death associated with chronic disease is avoidable through known prevention measures. Key measures include practicing a healthy lifestyle and the use of early detection practices (e.g., screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, diabetes and its complications, and depression).

For chronic diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, depression, psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, and urinary incontinence, much remains to be learned about their distribution in the population, associated risk factors, and effective measures to prevent or delay their onset. This site is intended to provide health tips for Senior Citizens to help them live longer, healthier lives.

Mental Health Issues and Senior Citizens

Mental Health

The majority of older Americans successfully cope with the physical and cognitive changes associated with aging as well as various losses, such as the loss of family and friends that frequently are associated with late life. However, a substantial proportion of the population aged 55 years and older—almost 20 percent of this age group—experience specific mental disorders that are not part of “normal” aging including depression, anxiety disorders, and dementia including Alzheimer’s disease which can be debilitating and severely affect an older adult’s quality of life.6

Depression – between 8 to 20 percent of Senior Citizens in the community and up to 37 percent in primary care settings suffer from depressive symptoms.1 These symptoms can range from depressive illness (major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, or bipolar disorder) to depressive symptoms that fall short of meeting full diagnostic criteria for a disorder and is associated with an increased risk of developing major depression (subsyndromal depression).7-8 In any of these forms, however, depressive symptoms are not a normal part of aging. In contrast to the normal emotional experiences of sadness, grief, loss, or passing mood states, they tend to be persistent and to interfere significantly with an individual's ability to function. Depression often co-occurs with other serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.9 Because of these co-occurring conditions health care professionals may mistakenly conclude that depression is a normal consequence of these problems—an attitude often shared by patients themselves.10 These factors together contribute to the underdiagnosis and undertreatment of depressive disorders in older people. Depression can and should be treated when it occurs and many effective therapies are available. If left untreated, depression impairs one’s enjoyment of life and may increase disability. It can also delay recovery from or worsen the outcome of other co-occurring chronic illnesses.

Cognitive health – or brain health, is an important part of healthy aging. Cognitive health refers to maintaining and improving mental skills such as learning, memory, decision-making, and planning. Many Senior Citizens mistakenly believe becoming “senile” or forgetting is a normal part of aging. Although one in four Senior Citizens experiences these events (known collectively as cognitive decline), they are not a normal part of healthy aging.11 There are certain changes in cognitive health that occur as you age. Normal changes usually mean a slower pace of learning and the need for new information to be repeated. While the majority of Senior Citizens will experience these normal changes in cognition, some Senior Citizens will experience cognitive decline. Senior Citizens with cognitive decline have a higher risk of developing dementia later in life. Among Americans 65 years and older, approximately 6–10% have dementia, and two-thirds of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.12 Although research has not found a way to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline may be preventable. Recent research suggests that being physically active, controlling your hypertension, and engaging in social activities may help you maintain and improve your cognitive health.

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