6 Health Issues Affecting Older Adults

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

SeniorMany issues affect the health of older adults. Area experts weighed in on eight of them.

1. Hormone imbalance

“Every cell in our body has receptors for hormones,” said physician Leila Kirdani, board-certified in both metabolic medicine and family practice at Quality of Life Medicine in New Hartford. “Hormone imbalance affects all areas of the body.”

She explained that as hormone levels decline, the cells won’t function as well. People experience unwanted changes in energy level, mood, aches and pains, short-term memory, cholesterol levels, organ function and bone strength.

Supplements and over-the-counter medication can help better balance hormones, she said.

2. Alzheimer’s disease

The number of people in New York with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase by 15 percent in the next seven years, according to the New York State Alzheimer’s Association Coalition.

“As we look at risk reduction and prevention, one of the things we’re looking at is how we can detect this disease at its earliest form,” said Cathy James, co-chairwoman of the New York State Alzheimer’s Association Coalition. “We’re working on early detection at this point because we don’t have biomarkers. Clinical trials are going on to determine what those biomarkers are. Perhaps then, some of the medication that hasn’t shown efficacy at a certain stage would have more effect with individuals who are pre-clinical symptoms.”

Age and genetics represent leading risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

At present, nothing cures Alzheimer’s disease, but taking a few preventive steps may help delay onset for some of those who will develop the disease: exercise, maintaining physical health, proper diet, keeping the brain active and social interaction.

“Restorative sleep is also a factor that may recharge our brains,” James said.

3. Nutrition

“Many elderly tend to go toward snacking on items like crackers, toast, coffee or eating prepared microwaveable meals or eating out,” said Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian, nutritionist and educator with Carlson Laboratories in Canastota. “Food choices depend on their home life whether they live alone or not, monetary status and health status.”

The problem with many of these choices is that they’re high in sodium, fat, preservatives and calories but lower in nutrients. Eating a balanced diet rich in many colors of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein promotes better health.

4. Supplementation

As needed, supplements may help support a healthful diet.

“Studies are supporting the benefits of incorporating a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement into our daily supplemental regime,” Sterling said. “People aged 60 and beyond might need additional vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Those with specific health concerns like heart disease, diabetes, and others will need additional specific nutrients in their multi-vitamins.”

5. Digestion

Along with many other areas of the body, digestion can change with age. Some people may discover they’re more sensitive to certain foods than they used to be.

“Digestive enzymes can assist in digestive issues,” Sterling said. “Families can assist by preparing healthful meals, batch cooking for their loved one to use heat up as needed, assist with shopping choices and make sure there are no dental issues with chewing.”

People with ill-fitting dentures may forgo nutritious foods such as raw fruits and vegetables and nuts.

6. Polypharmacy

While it can be dangerous — even life-threatening to abruptly stop taking medication, polypharmacy refers to taking many unnecessary medications or medication that should not be taken together.

“People believe medication save lives, but not necessarily,” said physician Az Tahir, who practices holistic integrative medicine at High Point Wellness in Syracuse.

He said that many older adults don’t know why they take certain medications and their physicians simply don’t review their pills. They may experience side effects and even take medication to counter them without exploring other medication that would bring fewer side effects.