Our Health Care Needs Beyond Seventy

Our health care needs change as we progress through life.  As infants, we needed a pacifier, a crib, baby accessories, and a mother’s breast.  As we grew older, we learned to walk and how to recover from our frequent falls.

If we were fortunate enough, we were able to learn to use a bicycle, which, in turn, taught us to deal with the tragedy of more severe falling and skinned knees, elbows, and legs.  Maybe we’re beginning to learn that new skills bring new risks.

Though these trials seemed distressing at the time, looking back at them in our rear-view mirror, we see little of significance from our mature understanding of today.  It’s called growing up.

As teenagers, we tried to continue to grow up but found it to be a bit more challenging.  Sometimes we longed to be adults and, from time to time, even tried to act like adults.  Then again, childhood still appealed to us.  We had experience with childhood, after all.

North of 70 means we are no longer young, even though, if we’re lucky, we still feel young.  Nevertheless, the health risks for those of us beyond 70 years of age, do increase.  It does not necessarily follow that we will get sick or lose function, but it does mean our health care needs do change, especially after 70.

We might need more medical tests to which we have become accustomed.  We may need more help in managing joint pain.  We may even have an occasional embarrassing (or at least annoying) health problem.  Maybe we need help managing new joint pain.  We can count on our doctors to treat us for conditions that are more likely to occur in older adults

Heart Changes

Heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and strokes are more common in those of us who are beyond 65 than in younger people.  Some of the reasons for this are:

  • Our hearts may not beat as fast as they need to during physical activity.
  • Over the years, fatty deposits (plaque) have built up in artery walls.
  • As we age, arteries grow stiffer, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Our hearts can develop unusually fast, slow, or irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias.  As we age, our doctors will check our hearts more closely.  Indicators that help doctors decide how well our hearts are doing and assess our risk of heart disease include:

  • Checking our blood pressure.
  • A fasting blood test for cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup.
  • A blood test for markers of inflammation.
  • An EKG (electrocardiogram, which looks at electrical activity in the heart.
  • An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create pictures of our hearts.

Medication Management

Another commonality shared among seniors is the increased taking of medications, especially after 70.  We may need to take several scripts after 70.  In a large survey of people between 62-86 years old, 87% took at least one RX, and 36% took five or more scripts.

Correctly prescribed medicines can help us get healthy, stay healthy, and manage chronic diseases.  However, they also come with important risks for us older adults.

  • Adverse reactions.  Taking several medicines prescribe by multiple doctors can increase our risk of problems like falls, depression, con fusion, and hallucinations.
  • Cost.  The cost of drugs may prevent us from taking them exactly as prescribed.  Almost one in four older adults skip doses or don’tfill prescriptions for financial reasons.
  • Incorrect use.  About 140,000 seniors die every year because we don’t take our medications as directed.

At any age, particularly after 70, we should ask our doctor or pharmacist for advice on managing our meds.  We can learn about possible interactions and strategies to help us take all our our medications, among other helpful tips.

Next week we'll talk more about our health care needs beyond 70.

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