Don't Be Robbed Of Your Health As You Age

Older adults are right to want to protect themselves and their homes from harm. They invest in alarm systems, move to secure communities and buy fierce-sounding dogs (of course, behind the door, Fluffy is all bark and no bite). But what about protecting their bodies from the top health threats? Unfortunately, there’s no alarm system for that. Also unfortunate is that the number of health threats increases with age.

Here’s how you can identify and eliminate the top health threats to seniors.

Suspect: Coronary Heart Disease
Why it’s a threat: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women, and risk increases with age. Coronary heart disease is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries that narrows or blocks the passage where blood flows. It can lead to heart attack and heart failure.

How to recognize it: Chest pain or discomfort (known as angina) is the most common sign. You also might feel pain in your neck, arms, stomach or upper back. It may come on with activity or emotion, then subside with rest. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue or nausea.

Arrest it: Don’t wait for symptoms to appear to start protecting yourself. Prevent heart disease by eating a lowfat, low-sodium diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids; getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week; and not smoking.

“Medicare covers a benefit now to help people to stop smoking,” says Lynda Anderson, Ph.D., director of the Healthy Aging Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Talk to your doctor about that.” Also, discuss your risk factors, and he or she will help you determine how frequently you need to have blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose tests. If you experience any of the heart attack symptoms listed above, call 911 right away.

Our 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, the Strickland Heart Center, features the most advanced operating rooms and cardiac catheterization laboratories in the Atlanta area. It’s also home to a comprehensive array of advanced cardiovascular services, including open heart surgery.

Suspect: Alzheimer’s Disease
Why it’s a threat: Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is a chronic, progressive and fatal condition. It mostly affects people older than 65.

How to recognize it: Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Symptoms include serious memory loss, confusion and difficulty remembering newly learned information.

“It’s more than forgetting your neighbor’s name every once in a while. It’s memory impairment that affects one’s ability to function on a daily basis,” says Mary Schulz, director of education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “For example, someone who’s done something most of their lives, like mowing the lawn, might look at the lawn mower and wonder, ‘How do I get started?’ ”

Arrest it: Alzheimer’s disease has no cure. The average patient survives eight years after diagnosis. But early detection and intervention with medication and lifestyle changes may prolong life by up to 20 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “You can have a lot of time,” Schulz says. “The sooner you know it, you can be more in control as the disease progresses.”

Suspect: Stroke
Why it’s a threat: Strokes are basically heart attacks that happen in the brain and can lead to disability and death. Adults older than 65 account for nearly 75 percent of cases in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Aging. Your risk more than doubles each decade after 55.

How to recognize it: Because stroke affects the brain, the person having a stroke may not be able to recognize it. That’s why it’s pertinent that everyone become familiar with the warning signs, which come on suddenly: numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body; confusion or trouble speaking or understanding; trouble seeing in one or both eyes; dizziness, loss of balance or trouble walking; and severe headache with no known cause.

Arrest it: If you notice the above symptoms, call 911 right away. Stroke prevention is similar to heart attack prevention—eat a healthy, low-sodium diet; get plenty of regular exercise; don’t smoke; and keep up with doctor appointments and screenings.

At GMC we are committed to providing the highest possible quality of care. We hold a Joint Commission Certification as a Primary Stroke Center. Further, our Glancy Rehabilitation Center earned the Stroke Specialty Program Accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). We are also an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Get with the Guidelines® Gold Plus designee.

Suspect: Osteoporosis and Falls
Why they’re a threat: Literally meaning “porous bone,” osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a loss of bone mass and density that makes bones weaker and more susceptible to breaks. Aside from being painful, bone breaks affect quality of life and can even lead to death in older adults. In fact, 24 percent of adults 50 and older who suffer a hip fracture die in the following year, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

“Once you fall, if you’re injured, your activity level declines and then you become inactive. Then pneumonia or other complications can occur,” Himes says. “Even if you aren’t hurt when you fall, you may be afraid you might fall again and become inactive. It’s a vicious  circle.”

How to recognize it: All too often, the first sign of osteoporosis is a broken bone. Don’t let that be the case, and talk to your doctor about getting a bone density scan.

GMC's accredited imaging centers offer bone density scans that are read by our board-certified radiologist. Schedule an appointment today at one of our convenient locations in Lawrenceville, Duluth and Hamilton Mill by calling 678-312-3444.

Arrest it: Even though 85 to 90 percent of bone density is built by age 18 in women and by 20 in men, continue to strengthen your bones throughout life by getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D and by performing regular weight-bearing exercise. Also, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol only in moderation. To prevent falls, clear your home’s floors and stairs of clutter, make sure every room is properly lit, and talk to your doctor about medications that may cause dizziness.

Suspect: Depression
Why it’s a threat: Adults 65 and older make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for 16 percent of the nation’s suicide deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is under-recognized and under-treated in this age group.

“Older adults still see somewhat of a stigma attached to depression,” Himes says. “They tend not to talk about those problems with their physician.”

How to recognize it: Depression often accompanies other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Signs include persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness, irritability, a loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities, difficulty concentrating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, overeating or loss of appetite, and thoughts of suicide.

Arrest it: Depression is treatable through medication and therapy. But you have to talk to your doctor to get help. “Be aware of the symptoms and don’t be afraid of seeking help for them,” Himes says.

SUSPECT: Arthritis
Why it’s a threat: The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, caused by wear and tear, is the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the joints between your bones. It leads to pain and stiffness in the affected joint, limiting range of motion and mobility.

How to recognize it: Risk increases with age. It often affects the knees, hips and hands, and sometimes the shoulders. Pain and stiffness are typically worst first thing in the morning, during or immediately after use, and after long periods of nonuse.

Arrest it: While osteoarthritis may cause pain during movement, it’s important to keep active. Try low-impact exercises such as swimming and walking to stay fit. Losing weight if you’re overweight also can help. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are available in addition to physical therapy, assistive devices and surgery, including joint replacement.

FREE Membership in PrimeTime Health
Gwinnett Medical Center offers free and discounted educational and fitness classes to adults older than 50. Becoming a member of PrimeTime Health is free and allows you to take advantage of the services that are designed with you in mind. Call 678-312-2676 to
get started.


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