Long-term medical conditions currently affect around four million older people in the UK. This is set to rise because of our ageing population. In fact, experts predict that by 2030, around seven million older people will have some form of long-term medical condition.
The ageing population and the increased prevalence of long-term medical conditions have had a huge impact on the NHS. Falls are the biggest cause of emergency admissions for older people and significantly impact long-term outcomes, especially for those who suffer from a medical problem.
Common Medical Conditions in Older People
Advances in healthcare have helped people in the UK live longer than ever before. As a result, medical conditions have become a more pronounced part of older life. On the other hand, it is becoming less of a challenge to live with these medical conditions. Therefore, older people are now in the best position ever to manage them on a day-to-day basis.
It’s important for us all to understand the most common medical conditions, so that we are more prepared to deal with them if diagnosed. This includes understanding the condition itself, its symptoms, and the treatments available. Furthermore, we should understand how to prevent common illnesses and how to live with them.
Here’s our guide to the most common medical conditions that tend to affect older people.
Arthritis is the breakdown of tissue inside the joints. It can restrict movement in the joints and cause pain and inflammation. Arthritis is very common in the UK, affecting more than 10 million people of all ages.
There are two main types of Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Among older people, osteoarthritis is more common. This is caused by wear and tear; the older we are the more we have used our joints through our lifetimes. Around eight million people in the UK are affected by this type of arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis include:
- Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness.
- Restricted movement of joints.
- Inflammation in and around the joints.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for arthritis. However, there are effective treatments such as painkillers and corticosteroids, which can help slow down the condition.
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. It affects people of all ages, including children.” – NHS Choices
The risk of a fall increases if you have arthritis. Our Personal Alarm system makes sure you can always receive help if you have a fall in your home or garden. You simply need to push the red button on your pendant, worn around the wrist or neck, and our 24/7 Response Team will respond.
A member of the team will assess your situation before taking the appropriate actions. This will commonly include contacting your loved ones as well as the emergency services, and informing them that you require urgent assistance.
Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is incredibly common. According to the NHS, more than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure but many won’t even realise it. The only way to find out is by having your blood pressure checked.
Noticeable symptoms of hypertension are rare. In fact, the only time someone will notice symptoms of hypertension will be when their blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as hypertensive crisis. Symptoms for this include severe headaches and anxiety, chest pain and an irregular heartbeat.
Hypertension puts lots of strain on blood vessels, the heart and other vital organs such as the kidneys. Having high blood pressure increases the risk of the following serious, and potentially life-threatening medical conditions:
Ways of treating and managing hypertension include:
- Watching your diet – Avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar. Replace them with fruits and vegetables.
- Leading an active lifestyle – Begin adding more exercise to your day. Start by walking regularly and then move onto jogging if you can.
- Stop smoking – Nicotine raises people’s blood pressure and heart rate. If you smoke, one of the best things you can do for your overall health is to quit.
The NHS recommends that all adults over the age of 40 get their blood pressure checked at least every five years.
With a Personal Alarm, if you feel chest pains or feel unwell, you can raise an alert by pressing your red button and informing our Response Team. They will contact your loved ones, or the ambulance service, and ask them to visit your home to assist you.
Asthma occurs when the body’s airways are sensitive to allergens and become inflamed. This inflammation can cause a painful and frightening attack, which causes the airway muscles to tighten and narrow, making it hard to breathe.
Symptoms of asthma include:
- A tight sensation in the chest.
Having a Personal Alarm could make a crucial difference if you suffer from an asthma attack. You can press your pendant button, which will then make an alarm call through to our Response Team. They will communicate with your over the loudspeaker and arrange for help immediately. Should you collapse or fall while wearing a Fall Detector, your device will send an alert call automatically.
Around two million people are living with sight loss here in the UK, with 360,000 people registered as blind or partially slighted.
The leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which affects more than 600,000 people in the UK. AMD is caused by a build-up of deposits on the macula (a small area at the centre of the retina) and can also be caused by abnormal blood vessels developing under it.
Other common causes of blindness in the elderly are glaucoma, caused by pressure on the optic nerve, and diabetes. Diabetic Retinopathy causes damage to the retina. Possible treatment options for blindness will depend on the cause, but may include:
- Cataract surgery.
- Eye drops.
- Laser surgery.
Early diagnosis of potential blindness is vital, so please seek medical attention if you notice any change to your vision. Of course we should all get regular eye checks to ensure that our eyesight is healthy. Specsavers suggest that people have an eye test every two years at the very least.
Losing your sight can be very difficult to cope with, however there are support groups out there that can help – such as the RNIB.
Cancer is a disease where cells in the body replicate abnormally and cause a mass known as a tumour. These abnormal cells multiply, either causing the tumour to grow or the cancerous cells to spread through the bloodstream.
Key symptoms to look out for include:
- Finding an unexpected lump.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Unexplained blood in the stool, urine, when coughing or when vomiting.
The survival rate is much lower for older people. Therefore, it’s very important to catch symptoms early and begin treatment as soon as possible. Please take a look at our guide to coping with cancer, an article we hope will help those affected by this condition.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition which affects the lungs and airways. It’s one of several lung conditions which come under the umbrella of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Most cases of bronchitis develop due to an infection irritating and inflaming the bronchi (airways), causing an overproduction of mucus. The body tries to shift this excess mucus via coughing. Chronic bronchitis is when this coughing coughing continues daily for several months.
Look out for symptoms of chronic bronchitis which include:
- A sore throat.
- A runny or blocked nose.
- Aches and pains in your chest.
Smoking makes you more likely to develop chronic bronchitis or COPD. Therefore, the most important thing to do if diagnosed with chronic bronchitis is to quit smoking. Cigarettes will only make the condition worse and it will take longer to disappear. Alongside this, you should also ensure that you’re eating a healthy diet to help prevent lung infections in the first place.
If you have chronic bronchitis, you should make sure that you get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and ensure that you treat any headaches or fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen – don’t use the latter if you have asthma.
Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death here in the UK. According to the NHS, coronary heart disease (CHD) is what happens when fatty substances build up in the arteries, blocking the blood supply to the heart.
CHD can be caused by certain lifestyle choices and other medical conditions, such as:
If you are at risk of CHD, your doctor might carry out an assessment. This could involve a treadmill test and one or more different scans. They’ll also ask you questions about your family history and lifestyle. The main symptoms of CHD are angina, heart attacks and heart failure.
In order to reduce the risk of CHD, you might need to make important lifestyle changes. For example, everyone should take part in regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. Those who smoke should stop smoking as soon as possible. There are also several types of medication or surgery options to help treat CHD.
The knock-on affects of CHD can appear out of nowhere, and can be fatal. If you have a Personal Alarm you can raise the alarm as soon as you feel any pain or fall, and help will be on its way within seconds. Remember, a Fall Detector Pendant will automatically detect a sudden fall and will raise an alarm for you. Having this technology can make a huge difference should you suffer from a heart attack. We also offer a GPS alarm which allows you to call for help both in your home and elsewhere.
Dementia is a progressive disorder that affects memory and overall brain function. It is more common in older people, affecting around 1 in 14 people over 65. This increases to 1 in 6 people over the age of 80.
Symptoms of dementia include:
- Difficulty remembering recent events.
- Problems in conversation – struggling to follow along or to find the right words.
- Difficulty judging distance.
- Forgetting where you are or what date it is.
Nearly one million people in the UK live with dementia, 90% of whom are 65 or over. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should visit your GP as soon as possible, especially if you are over 65. An early diagnosis will help you get the best results from treatment and give you more time to prepare for the future.
The symptoms of dementia can be scary, both for you and your loved ones. Personal Alarms can help in these situations. If you, or your loved one, begins to worry or becomes confused about their surroundings they can press their pendant for help. Our expert Care Team are trained to provide reassurance and take action quickly.
Older people are susceptible to developing diabetes. In fact, half of all people with diabetes in the UK are over 65. Diabetes is a lifelong condition, caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin. It affects an astonishing 3.9 million people here in the United Kingdom.
Among the older population, type 2 diabetes is a growing problem, and a larger proportion of newly diagnosed diabetics are from the older generation. In fact, one in 10 people over 40 are now living with the condition. To help avoid Type 2 diabetes, the NHS encourages the following lifestyle changes:
- Healthy eating – Increasing the amount of fibre and reducing sugar and fat intake.
- Losing weight – Do this by gradually reducing calorie intake and becoming more physically active.
- Exercising regularly – It is important to keep active by completing both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Older people are often quite frail and more susceptible to illnesses, which can lead to diabetes-related complications. Furthermore, exercising and adopting a diabetic-friendly diet can be more difficult for elderly people to manage.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition that results in seizures. Oddly, epilepsy is common in those at opposite ends of the age spectrum. It is most common in young children and people aged over 65. In fact, one in four people with epilepsy are over 65. Every day, 87 people are diagnosed with the condition.
Epilepsy can be caused by head injuries, strokes, tumours or certain infections. You’ll normally receive a diagnosis if you’ve had two or more seizures. This is because many people have a one-off epileptic seizure during their lifetime.
There are several medications which can help control epilepsy. These help eight out of every 10 people with epilepsy to control their seizures. If you have epilepsy, you should follow these steps to manage your condition:
- Stay Healthy – Take part in regular exercise and eat a balanced diet.
- Sleep – Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.
- Avoid Alcohol – Avoid excessive drinking.
Please remember that if you have a seizure and you currently hold a driving licence, you have a legal responsibility to inform the Driving and Vehicle Licence Authority.
Motor neurone disease is a rare neurological condition where the nervous system degenerates over time. It leads to muscle weakness and loss of mobility. Motor neurone disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), occurs when motor neurons that control activities like walking and speaking stop working.
- Difficulty swallowing (and sometimes excessive drooling).
- A weakened grip, usually first noticed in one hand.
- Small twitches and flickers of movement, known as ‘fasciculations’.
- Difficulty speaking or slurred speech, known as ‘dysarthria’.
The causes of the disease are still unknown, but we do know that it commonly affects men more than women and that it occurs most often in people between the ages of 50 and 70-years-old. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for MND, but several treatments can minimise symptoms and slow the condition’s progress.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. The condition can cause serious disability, but the main symptoms are a wide range of problems with vision, movement and balance.
There are more than 100,000 people in the UK living with the condition. The MS Society estimates that each year 5000 more people are diagnosed. That’s approximately 14 people every day. They go on to say that around one in every 600 people has multiple sclerosis (MS).
Symptoms of MS include:
- Blurred vision.
- Muscle stiffness.
- Balance problems.
- Difficulty walking.
Currently there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are a number of treatments out there which can help to control the condition. The treatments available will depend on the specific symptoms of the condition.
Osteoporosis affects over three million people across the UK, with more than 500,000 people receiving hospital treatment for fragility fractures every year as a result. This condition develops slowly over time and is often left undiagnosed until a fall or impact causes a bone fracture.
This is because osteoporosis is a condition that weakens the bones. Losing bone mass is a natural part of the ageing process, however some people do lose density faster than normal. This leads to osteoporosis and a higher risk of fracture injuries.
Women are more at risk of the condition because they lose bone density rapidly in the first few years after going through menopause. Medication can help strengthen bones. In addition, many people take calcium and vitamin D supplements to maintain bone health.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are types of exercise that can help combat the condition. These are split into two groups:
- Weight-bearing exercises – Activities which involve moving against gravity whilst staying upright. High-impact examples such as skipping and tennis help to build bones and keep them strong. Low-impact examples such as using a stair-step machine and a treadmill are a safer alternative if you have bone problems.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises – Activities which involve moving the body, weights or other forms of resistance against gravity. Examples include lifting weights, using weight machines and elastic exercise bands.
Falls are quite common for those who suffer from osteoporosis. Should you suffer from a fall, you may be unable to get back up or reach for your phone to call for assistance. Having a pendant button around your wrist or neck allows you to get help quickly in situations like these. For added security, we would suggest the Fall Detector plan. The fall detector will raise an automatic alert, even if you’re unable to press the button.
Paget’s disease of the bone disrupts the normal cycle of bone renewal. It’s triggered by a flaw in the bone cell regeneration system, which causes bone weakness and even bone deformity.
Paget’s disease is a common bone condition that affects the pelvis, spine and other areas of the body. It is a very common condition in the UK, mostly affecting people over the age of 50. The condition affects 8% of men and 5% of women by the age of 80.
Symptoms include the following:
- Constant, dull bone pain.
- Shooting pain that travels along or across the body.
- Numbness and tingling.
- Loss of movement in a part of the body.
These symptoms of this condition can trigger a fall, which can be fatal if there is nobody around to help you. Having a Personal Alarm can help should you suffer from any of the symptoms above, or from a fall. Simply press the red button on your pendant and our Response Team will respond, assess your situation and arrange for help to come to you.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive condition which damages and affects parts of the brain. The NHS estimates that there are around 130,000 people in the UK living with Parkinson’s disease. That’s 1 in every 500 people.
The main cause of Parkinson’s is a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called in the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in dopamine, an important chemical in the brain. The condition is most common in middle-aged and elderly people. The most common symptoms to look out for are:
- Involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor).
- Slow movement.
- Stiff and inflexible muscles.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. There are treatments available which can help to reduce the main symptoms and allow those affected to maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.
Having a stroke can be life-threatening if you don’t seek medical attention straight away. A stroke will occur when the blood supply to a part of your brain is cut off. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged and may even die.
Strokes are particularly common among older people. The average age for suffering a stroke is 74 for men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For women, this is slightly higher, with the average being 80. Across the UK, strokes are a leading cause of disability, with around two thirds of all survivors being left with a disability.
It’s very important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke. The sooner you and your loved ones react, the less complications there will be afterwards. As mentioned, strokes can be life-threatening so it’s important for treatment to begin as soon as possible. Memorise the signs of a stroke with the word F.A.S.T:
- Face – The person may be unable to smile and their face may have dropped on one side, with their mouth or eye drooping.
- Arms – The person may be unable to lift both arms and keep them there.
- Speech – The person may suffer from slurred or garbled speech, or may be unable to talk at all.
- Time – Don’t waste any time! Dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Paramedics are trained to deal with strokes, so if you notice any signs at all you need to call for an ambulance. Wearing an alarm pendant ensures that you can call for help even if you’re unable to reach for the phone. Our Response Team will take care of everything, by calling for your loved ones and the emergency services.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is quite common among older people here in the UK. There are sevearl other medical conditions which affect the kidneys and can lead to chronic kidney disease. These conditions include kidney infections, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney inflammation.
According to Kidney Care UK, around 64,000 people in the UK are receiving treatment for kidney failure – this is stage 5 CKD, where kidney function is less than 15%.
Unfortunately, symptoms for the early stages of the condition are quite rare. They may only be picked up during a blood or urine test for other medical conditions. As the condition gets worse, you may suffer from:
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling sick.
- Blood in your urine.
- Swollen ankles, feet or hands.
If you suffer from any of the symptoms above or notice any other worrying changes to your body, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
There is no cure for CKD right now, but there are treatments which can relieve the symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening. Options include medication, living a healthy lifestyle, dialysis or a kidney transplant in severe cases.
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in your deep veins, most commonly in one of your legs. This condition is most common in people over the age of 40, and can also lead to further complications, including pulmonary embolism.
There are a number of factors which can increase your risk of DVT, including being inactive for longer periods of time, obesity, blood vessel damage and a family history of blood blots.
Smoking can cause serious damage to blood vessels. In order to lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis and several other medical conditions you should seriously consider quitting.
Here are the most common symptoms of deep vein thrombosis:
- Pain, swelling and tenderness in one of your legs.
- A heavy ache in the affected area.
- Red skin – particularly at the back of your leg, below the knee.
- Warm skin in the area of the clot.
- A mild fever.
One common treatment involved blood-thinning medication, which reduces the blood’s ability to clot and prevents existing clots from increasing in size. Alongside your medication, you will also need to make some lifestyle changes.
Shingles is a skin condition which is very common among older people, especially those over the age of 70. This is due to the fact that your body’s immune system becomes weaker as you age.
This medical condition is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox, and only those who have had chickenpox can develop shingles. The infection will cause a painful rash or blisters to form on your skin, which may become extremely itchy.
If you have shingles, the affected area will feel quite tender and you may experience sharp stabbing pains every now and then. Other symptoms include a burning and tingling feeling in the affected areas, as well as a high temperature and a general feeling of being unwell.
The earlier that you see your doctor, the sooner treatment can begin. The NHS suggests using Calamine Lotion as this has a cooling, soothing effect on the skin and can relieve the itchy feeling. If your blisters are weeping, you can use a cloth or flannel which has been cooled with tap water.
People aged 70 or 78 years old qualify for a free shingles vaccination with the NHS. This is the best way of avoiding the condition.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is created by your liver and is also found in some foods. Lipoproteins in the blood carry cholesterol around the body. There are two types of lipoproteins: low density and high density. You might have heard of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol – ‘good’ refers to high density lipoproteins while ‘bad’ refers to low density.
Having high cholesterol is bad for your health. A number of lifestyle choices and medical conditions can lead to high cholesterol. These include:
Age can also increase your chances of having high cholesterol, as the risk of your arteries narrowing is much higher. The best way to lower or avoid high cholesterol in the first place is by living as healthily as possible.
Staying Safe at Home
A personal alarm can help protect people if they suffer from medical conditions like those mentioned in this article. If one of our alarm users feels unwell, or suffers a fall, they can press their pendant button and our Response Team will arrange help immediately.
For more information on of our life-saving personal alarms, send an email at email@example.com or speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2017. Updated on October 16, 2020 to improve the information available.