Long-term medical conditions affect an estimated four million elderly people in the UK. This is set to rise because of our aging population. It is predicted that by 2030, around seven million elderly 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 largest cause of emergency admissions for older people and significantly impact long-term outcomes, especially for those who suffer from a medical condition.
Common health conditions in older people
Advances in health care have helped people in the UK live for longer than ever before and as a result, medical conditions have become a more pronounced part of elderly life. It is becoming less of a challenge to live with these medical conditions and the elderly are now in the best position ever to manage them on a day-to-day basis.
It’s important that we all have some knowledge about the most common medical conditions so that we are more prepared to deal with them if diagnosed. This includes understanding the condition itself, the treatments available, ways in-which to prevent the condition and how to live with it.
Here’s our guide to the most widespread medical conditions that tend to affect the elderly.
Arthritis is the breakdown of tissue inside the joints. It can cause pain, inflammation, restricted movement of the area and an apparent weakness within the joints affected. Arthritis is very common in the UK, affecting around 10 million people of all ages.
There are two main types of Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. When it comes to older people, the most common type of arthritis is Osteoarthritis. 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’s currently no cure for the disease but there are treatments available 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
Hypertension is a long-term health condition whereby the blood pressure in the arteries is constantly elevated. Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood within blood vessels and is measured in ‘millimetres of mercury’ (mmHg) using two numbers; for example, 120/80mmHg.
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 as the only time someone will notice symptoms of hypertension will be when blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. This is known as hypertensive crisis and the 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.
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.
- Being out of breath regularly.
The elderly are susceptible to asthma and it can worsen when people have a cold or the flu. Asthma can be disruptive to a person’s life and managing it is extremely important as it can be a life-threatening condition.
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 (AMB), which affects more than 600,000 people in the UK. AMD is caused by a build-up of deposits on the macula (the 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:
Early diagnosis of potential blindness is vital so please seek medical attention if your vision is becoming an issue. 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.
Coping with losing your sight can be very difficult, however there are support groups out there that can help – such as the RNIB.
A third of the population will suffer from some form of cancer at some point in their lives. There are over 200 strains of this medical condition, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.
Cancer is a disease where cells in the body replicate abnormally and cause a mass known as a tumour. These abnormal cells multiply, causing either the tumour to grow or the cancerous cells to spread through the bloodstream.
Symptoms that we should all 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, which is why it is important for symptoms to be caught earlier and treatment to begin 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 respiratory condition. Most cases develop due to an infection irritating and inflaming the bronchi of the lungs, causing an overproduction of mucus. The body tries to shift this excess mucus via coughing. This condition causes this coughing to happen daily for prolonged periods of time.
The condition is caused by either a virus or bacteria, similar to the same viruses that cause colds and flu which can make it difficult to differentiate when diagnosing. Look out for symptoms of chronic bronchitis which include:
- A sore throat.
- A runny or blocked nose.
- Aches and pains in your chest.
The most important thing to do if diagnosed with chronic bronchitis is to quit smoking if you smoke. 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 the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries.
CHD can be caused by certain lifestyle choices and other medical conditions, such as:
Those considered to be at risk from CHD will be put through a risk assessment by their GP. Tests such as a treadmill test, radionuclide scan and a CT scan are just a few of the options available to doctors. The main symptoms of CHD are angina, heart attacks and heart failure.
In order to reduce the risk of CHD, people are advised to make severe lifestyle changes. For example, people should take part in regular exercise, eat a balanced diet and stop smoking if they smoke. There are also several types of medication or surgery options to help treat CHD.
Dementia is a progressive disorder that affects the brain’s memory capacity and it’s overall functionality. Rather than being a condition in and of itself, dementia is a word that refers to a set of symptoms relating to someone’s memory, language and understanding.
The most common cause of dementia, and most well-known, is Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia is another type of dementia that develops following a stroke or if there is blood vessel damage in the brain.
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. Anybody who feels that they might be suffering from any of these symptoms should visit their GP as soon as possible. An early diagnosis can help ensure that the right treatment and support is put into place.
Older people are susceptible to developing diabetes because of changes that happen as our bodies grow and age. 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 elderly population, type 2 diabetes is a growing problem, and a larger proportion of newly diagnosed diabetics are from the older generation. Lifestyle changes, encouraged by the NHS, to help avoid diabetes include:
- 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 commonly diagnosed in those at polar opposites of the age spectrum. It is most common in young children and people aged over 65. In fact, one in four people diagnosed are over 65.
Epilepsy can be either symptomatic, meaning it has a clear cause, or idiopathic, meaning its roots are most likely genetic. Symptomatic epilepsy can be caused by head injuries, strokes, tumours or certain serious infections. The condition is commonly diagnosed after somebody has suffered from more than one seizure – as many people have a one-off epileptic seizure during their lifetime.
Epilepsy can be controlled with the help of medications, which help eight out of every 10 people with epilepsy to control their seizures. People should act upon the following guidelines to help make living with the condition a little easier:
- 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, you have a legal responsibility to inform the Driving and Vehicle Licence Authority.
Motor neurone disease is a rare condition where the nervous system progressively degenerates, leading to muscle weakness often visible by the wasting away of muscle tissue. Motor neurone disease, also known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), occurs when motor neurones that control important muscle activities such as walking and speaking in the brain and the spinal cord 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.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. Multiple sclerosis can cause serious disability, but the main symptoms are a wide range of problems with vision, movement and even 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.
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 which leads to Osteoporosis and an increased 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 or, alternatively, calcium and vitamin D supplements can be taken as both are very important when it comes to the well-being of bones.
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.
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 bones to become weakened and possibly deformed.
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 and is most common in people over the age of 50. The condition can be seen in 8% of men and 5% of women by the age of 80.
Symptoms of the condition 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.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive condition which damages and affects parts of the brain. It is estimated, by the NHS, that there are around 130,000 people in the UK living with Parkinson’s disease – that’s 1 in every 500 people.
Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called in the substantia nigra, which leads to a reduction in a chemical in the brain called dopamine. 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.
Living with medical conditions
A very high percentage of medical conditions cause those affected to drastically change their lifestyles in order to manage them. It is important to first understand the medical condition and then move forward with support and treatments.
It is still possible to live a normal life with a long-term medical condition. Those affected can plan their care and medication with their family or loved ones, working together to understand their new lifestyle and they can bring control and management into living with a medical condition.
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, he or she can press their pendant button and help will be arranged immediately.
For more information on purchasing one of our life-saving personal alarms, send an email at email@example.com or speak to one of our friendly advisors on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editors note: This article was originally published on the 7th September 2017. Updated on 11th October 2017 to improve the information available.