Throughout the world, people are living longer than ever before. While there isn’t an age when we automatically become ‘older’, 65 is often thought of as the beginning of old age – it’s when retirement starts in many countries, for example. Today, 1 in 11 people in the world is 65 or over.
While many older people are in good health, some may need a lot of help from other people. This is because as we get older, the cells and organs in our body change. It’s a gradual process, but our body may not work as well as it did when we were younger.
This means that some health conditions are more common in older people. Read on to learn what these conditions are, how you can spot them, and when to get medical help.
As you age, the tiny hair cells in your inner ear wear down, which is why hearing loss often happens gradually as you get older. You might start to notice that you struggle to hear some people talking, or that you need to turn the volume up on your television.
It’s not always possible to prevent hearing loss as you age, but you can try to avoid damaging your hearing. So don’t play music or the television too loudly, and wear ear protection if your workplace is noisy, or you go to noisy events (such as concerts).
Problems with your sight are more likely as you get older, and cataracts are a common condition. This is when the small clear disc in your eye, called the lens, starts to go cloudy. Over time, it can make your vision blurry, and can eventually lead to blindness. You’ll need surgery to remove and replace the affected lens. It’s a common operation with a high success rate.
Some eye conditions don’t have symptoms, so it’s a good idea to have your eyes checked regularly, as well as if you notice any changes to your sight.
The following can help to keep your eyes healthy:
- wearing sunglasses when you’re out in the sun
- eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, which contain nutrients for eye health
- giving up smoking – smoking may increase your risk of several eye problems, including cataracts
Of course, anyone can fall over, but it happens more often when you’re older. This is because you’re more likely to have weak muscles or balance problems, bad eyesight, or a health condition that can make you feel dizzy.
The good news is that you can make simple changes to help you avoid falls at home. These include avoiding wet floors (non-slip mats for the bathroom are a good idea), ensuring you have good lighting, removing clutter, and securing any rugs and carpets so you can’t trip over them.
Joint pain that gradually gets worse as you get older is quite common, and it’s usually a sign of a condition called osteoarthritis. The main symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, which can be mild or severe.
While you can’t always prevent arthritis, you can minimise your risk by trying to avoid injuries and living a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and keeping to a healthy weight can help, as can good posture and avoiding sitting in one place for too long.
The older you are, the more likely you are to get ill in the winter. The cold weather increases your risk of getting a cold, cough or the flu, and even a heart attack or stroke. There’s also a higher chance of your body temperature getting dangerously low (hypothermia).
You can look after yourself during cold weather by keeping your home warm (at least 18C), having hot drinks, and using a hot water bottle or electric blanket in bed. You may also be advised to get a flu vaccine.
Your risk of getting type 2 diabetes can also increase as you age. This is when sugar builds up in your blood instead of being used by your body for energy, and can cause long-term health problems.
It’s more common when you’re over 40 if you’re white, but if you’re African-Caribbean, Black African or South Asian, you’re at greater risk once you’re over 25. Being overweight and having high blood pressure also increase your risk.
To reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes, try to keep to a healthy weight, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet and cut down on alcohol.
Everyone forgets things, but you may find that it happens more often as you get older. Often, it’s just a normal part of the ageing process, but occasionally it can be a sign of something more serious, such as dementia.
Dementia is a term for a collection of symptoms that happen when diseases affect the brain, and memory problems are common. If you’re concerned about dementia, speak to your doctor.
Many of us feel lonely from time to time, but older people can be more likely to face loneliness. Various things play a part in this, including leaving a job, becoming weaker or unwell, not being able to see friends, or losing a partner. And feelings of loneliness can lead to depression.
You can look after your mental health by joining in with community activities, where you can meet people and learn new skills. Talking to others who are going through the same thing can also help – your doctor may be able to recommend a support group or treatments.
When to see a doctor
While many of the effects of ageing are not a cause for concern, you should speak to your doctor if:
- your hearing is getting steadily worse
- you find it hard to see in low light, your vision is blurred or misty, you find lights too bright, or colours look duller
- memory problems are affecting your daily life
- you have pain and stiffness in your joints that’s getting worse
- you feel generally unwell
- as we age, our bodies may not work as well, and people over 65 may have age-related health conditions
- health risks for older people include hearing loss, eye problems, falls, joint pain, winter illness, diabetes, memory loss and depression
- a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, regular exercise, socialising and not smoking can help prevent some age-related conditions