The Most Common Health Problems In Your 60s
Congrats! You've made it through your 40s and 50s, and are now headed into the golden years. The kids are out of the house and many you'll retire, or have already—which means that your stress level may be lower than ever! However, this "third age" of life can host a variety of other health issues. Here are the most common health problems in your 60s, according to experts.
Because teeth don't regenerate, as we age our dental health tends to be compromised. "Many people may not realize that proper oral hygiene is the gateway to good overall health, and poor oral hygiene can lead to serious health problems including heart issues, respiratory infections, dementia, cancer and more," points out Keith Krell, DDS, President of the American Association of Endodontists.
The Rx: No matter your age, stay on top of your dental health and go in for your regular check-ups and cleanings.
Did you get chicken pox as a kid? Shingles is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus in adulthood, explains Matthew Mintz, MD. Most of us who grew up before the chicken pox vaccine had chicken pox and it resolved. However, the body never gets rid of the virus, but rather the virus hides in the nerve roots, and our immune system keeps the virus there. "As we get older, especially in the 60s and beyond, our immune system weakens and the virus can travel down the nerve roots to the skin causing a severely painful rash," Dr. Mintz says. In addition, in some cases, the pain persists even when the rash resolves with treatment.
The Rx: Because of this, the new shingles vaccine called Shingrix is recommended to adults over 50. "The vaccine boosts the immune system and is effective in preventing this disease," says Dr. Mintz.
Pelvic Floor Issues
You made it through menopause…yay! However, hormonal shifts, as well as simply the gradual wear and tear on muscles and connective tissue can cause more "looseness" in the tissue of the pelvic floor, points out fitness and wellness expert Kelly Bryant. "The biggest ones I see are urinary incontinence (specifically leaking when running/jumping/sneezing/laughing) and pelvic organ prolapse," she reveals.
The Rx: Addressing these issues early on in life is the easiest way to avoid them as we age, Bryant points out. However, if that ship has sailed, there are many non-surgical ways to increase pelvic floor strength and reduce or completely eliminate these symptoms. "They range from practicing a more effective kegel (slow, controlled engagement of the entire pelvic floor—not just the urethral sphincter—and slow, controlled release), better awareness of pelvic floor control during exercise, and simply breathing full, deep diaphragmatic breaths."
Shortness of Breath
Because many people in their 60s suffer from either high cholesterol or high blood pressure, shortness of breath is a common condition that lands them in the doctor's office, reveals Joyce Oen-Hsiao, MD, director of clinical cardiology at Yale Medicine. "Years of slightly elevated blood pressure (even just at a level of 155/85) and lack of exercise (because they are working so hard) causes the heart arteries and the heart to become less compliant—meaning that they are not able to relax as well as they used to," she explains. Because they cannot relax as well, the pressure inside the arteries, and eventually the heart, builds up.
The Rx: The best way to avoid this is to keep your blood pressure under control as soon as you know it is starting to rise. Additionally, Dr. Oen-Hsiao suggests trying to do cardio exercise (walking, biking, running, etc.) regularly, noting that the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate cardio exercise each week. "By doing these two things, the arteries and the heart will not stiffen as quickly," she says. "Also, if you are a smoker, remember that smoking raises your blood pressure about 10 points for 2 hours after you smoke a cigarette, so try to cut back on the number of cigarettes you smoke—or even try to quit!"
For the same reasons, many people in their 60s suffer from swelling of their ankles and lower legs. "This is a common problem and is due to stiffening of the heart arteries and also the heart," points out Dr. Oen-Hsiao.
The Rx: In addition to doing the same things recommended for shortness of breath, Dr. Oen-Hsiao suggests avoiding salty foods, "as this can make your blood pressure rise and cause swelling of your legs." If you already have symptoms, your doctor might prescribe a diuretic (a water pill) to help get rid of the fluid that has been building up. "Make sure you take that water pill (along with your blood pressure pills) as prescribed," she adds. And keep in mind: the best prevention is to be on top of your health as early as possible. "Remember to take care of yourself and your body so that you will be able to enjoy your retirement with as few pills as possible!"
Falling and staying asleep can become more difficult the older we get, partially due to our bodies producing less growth hormone and melatonin, but it's just as important as ever to get our Zs. Charles Odonkor, MD, a Yale Medicine physiatrist, points out that people in their 60s are often sleep deprived, getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night. While some of this can be due to existing medical issues or stress, external factors also play their part. "Watching TV, using smart phones, computers, ipads and smart devices in bed at nighttime increases our exposure to artificial lighting at nighttime and doing this chronically disrupts our body's natural clock—the circadian rhythm," he points out. "Exposure to artificial light makes our body secrete less melatonin, which delays sleep onset and leads to poor sleep quality. Doing this every night can result in chronic sleep deprivation, which decreases anabolic homes needed for building muscle strength. It increases catabolic hormones like cortisol associated with stress, weight gain, chronic fatigue, and impaired cognition."
The Rx: Dr. Odonkor suggests improving your sleep habits by simply shutting off your electronic devices before bedtime.
Chronic Aches, Pains, and Body Stiffness
Dr. Siri Smith at Tru Whole Care points out that aging can lead to spine and joint degeneration, which is why so many older adults find the need for joint replacement surgeries.
The Rx: Dr. Smith suggests taking care of your body—whether that be chiropractic work, physical therapy, or exercise, "all with the goal of pain relief, restored function, and halting the degenerative process!"
As we age, we can lose muscle strength and joint flexibility, which also affects our reaction time. "We also are more likely to have increased vestibular issues, which means our diminishing eyesight and hearing can throw our balance off," points out Dr. Smith. This is why the older we get, the more we seem to fall.
The Rx: Strengthen your body! "There are many exercises that can specifically help balance," Dr. Smith maintains. "Tai chi is very helpful or simply stand on one leg at a time for 30 seconds with eyes open. If that becomes easy, do it with eyes closed. Make sure to be near a wall to hold onto if needed!"
If you are feeling pangs of pain in your legs, it can be due to some medical conditions or medications or can be as simple as dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance, points out Dr. Smith. Unfortunately, they can also be very painful and wake us up during the night.
The Rx: Staying hydrated and taking a magnesium supplement can be helpful in keeping leg cramps at bay, points out Dr. Smith. She also suggests speaking with your doctor in order to find out if any of your medications are causing the pain.
Decreasing Height and Worsening Posture
No, it's not just your imagination: you are shrinking. Science has established that everyone loses height as they age. However, some people shrink at greater rates than others due to osteoporosis and spinal degeneration, which is the loss of spinal disc height and joint cushioning.
"Poor posture can cause back and neck pain due to the forward position of our heavy heads on top of our smaller necks," explains Dr. Smith. In turn, it can affect our breathing, as it decreases the space for our heart and lungs. "It makes us look older than we are and poor posture leads to further spinal degeneration, as it adds additional load to our bones and muscles, which it isn't designed to handle."
The Rx: Take care of your body. Exercise is a great way to maintain your bone health.
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.