Problems That Can Sneak Up on Seniors

More than nine in 10 older adults have some type of chronic disease, and almost eight in 10 have more than one. So chances are, you'll have one sooner or later. But there are things you can do to live a healthier life.

High Blood Presure

As you age, your blood vessels get less flexible, and that puts pressure on the system that carries blood through your body. That might explain why about two out of three adults over 60 have high blood pressure. But there are other causes you can control. To do so, watch your weight, exercise, stop smoking, find ways to deal with stress, and eat healthy.


About one in 10 Americans have diabetes. Your chances of getting the disease go up as you get older. Diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, and other problems. Talk with your doctor about having your blood sugar checked.

Heart Disease

Plaque buildup in your arteries is a major cause of heart disease. It starts in childhood and gets worse as you age. In the 40-to-59 age group in the U.S., 6.3% of men and 5.6% of women have heart disease. Between ages 60 and 79, heart disease cases go up to nearly 20% of men and 9.7% of women.


If you weigh a lot more than is healthy for your height, you could be considered obese -- it’s not having just a few extra pounds. It’s linked to at least 20 chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and arthritis. Nearly 45% of Americans ages 40 to 59 are obese.


At one time, doctors chalked up this disease of the joints to the wear and tear of age, and that is a factor. But genetics and lifestyle probably have something to do with it as well. And previous joint injuries, a lack of physical activity, diabetes, and being overweight can all play a part, too.


Osteoporosis causes your bones to become weak and could lead to fractures. It affects about 54 million Americans age 50 or over. A couple of things that can help: a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D (you need both for strong bones) and regular weight-bearing exercise, like dancing, jogging, or climbing stairs.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

This causes inflammation and blocks air from your lungs. It’s a slow-moving disease that you could have for years without knowing it -- symptoms usually show up in your 40s or 50s. It can make you have trouble breathing, and you may cough, wheeze, and spit up mucus. Exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding smoke and pollution can help.

Hearing Loss

Maybe nothing says “You’re getting older” more than having to ask, “What did you say?” About 2% of Americans ages 45 to 54 have hearing loss that is "disabling." That goes up to 8.5% for those ages 55 to 64.  Loud noise, disease, and your genes all play a part. Some medications can cause hearing problems, too. See your doctor if you’re not able to hear as well as you used to.

Vision Problems

That annoying blurriness when you try to read the small type on labels or menus isn’t the only threat to your vision as you age. Cataracts (which cloud the lens of your eye) and glaucoma (a group of eye conditions that damage your optic nerve) can harm your eyesight. See your eye doctor for regular exams.

Bladder Problems

Whether you can’t go when you need to or you have to go too often, problems with bladder control tend to happen as we get older. They can be caused by nerve problems, muscle weakness, thickening tissue, or an enlarged prostate. Exercises and lifestyle changes -- drinking less caffeine or not lifting heavy things, for example -- often help.


Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer. The disease affects young people, too, but your odds of having it more than double between ages 45 and 54. You can’t control your age or your genes, but you do have a say in things like smoking or spending too much time in the sun.


Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. among people 18 and over. Some people get down as they age, when health problems crop up, loved ones are lost or move away, and other life changes happen.

Back Pain

The older you get, the more common this is. Lots of things can make you more likely to have it: being overweight, smoking, not getting enough exercise, or diseases like arthritis and cancer. Watch your weight, exercise, and get plenty of vitamin D and calcium to keep your bones strong. And strengthen those back muscles -- you’ll need them.


Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, usually doesn’t pop up until 65 or so. Some risk factors (like age and heredity) are things you can’t control. But evidence suggests that a heart-healthy diet and watching your blood pressure and blood sugar might help.

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