It was just two weeks ago that I underscored the fact that “older adults have a greater fear of Alzheimer’s than of any other medical condition.” Okay, but that doesn’t mean that there are no other health care concerns that deserve attention. In fact, it may surprise you that the second greatest risk factor behind cognitive decline is “falling.” Yes, something as basic as a misstep or a stumble can be number two behind dementia. So that you can be a more vigilant caregiver to your older loved one, let’s go through the list in descending order of risk:
Keeping Nimble. Balance is not just for the summer Olympics on the beam. The majority of visits to the ER for older adults is because they’ve fallen. Physical therapy is not just for recovery, but also for maintenance of balance…it’s worth checking out a trainer or PT group before the fall.
Dental not Mental. We don’t see as many folks with dentures in this 21st century, but oral infections can cause gum or bone problems. A dental visit every six months to keep ahead of these problems is as important as brushing and flossing.
Take it to Heart. Dementia may be the fear factor, but cardiovascular disease is the real threat. Blood pressure and cholesterol both need to be managed through diet and exercise. If you are a caregiver, help your loved one take care of their heart now and it will take care of them much farther down the road.
Feed your Bones. Thinning bones through osteoporosis affects about 54 million Americans over age 50. It’s about a diet with enough calcium as well as load bearing exercise to avoid the brittle than can lead to breakage.
Respiratory Health. We often think it’s about smoking when we talk about lung disease, but it is also asthma and COPD, both of which can become more acute as one ages. Encourage your older loved one to visit a pulmonologist, not just their primary care provider, for the latest medications to control these chronic conditions.
Diabetes. Specifically type 2 diabetes has become its own epidemic among older adults, most often owing to over-consumption of carbohydrates and poor exercise habits. One in four adults over age 65 have been diagnosed, but it can be avoided with lifestyle change, and it can be managed with good diet and exercise.
Lung Infections. Flu (not COVID) or pneumonia don’t happen to just older adults, but they are more vulnerable to complications. Older adults can be more immune-compromised and less physically active which will make them easier breeding grounds for these viruses.
Eyes and Ears. It’s a lot like oral health in that regular check-ups will catch conditions that can lead to either vision or hearing loss. Some of these conditions are “age-related,” but a lot of what hinders vision and hearing can be mitigated with early detection.
Cancer. It once was everyone’s greatest fear, and it comes in a variety of forms. Talk to your older loved one’s health care provider about what tests are appropriate to their age and gender. Catching most of these conditions earlier means a greatly enhanced success in treatment.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.