As we age, our health concerns change. Some conditions affect men and women equally but some do not. In addition, conditions which were not a big concern for younger women can become a larger concern as a woman ages. In honor of National Women’s Health Week, here are some of the most prevalent health conditions that affect elderly women.
Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome
About three-fourths of seniors are overweight or obese. Obesity contributes to other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, and gallbladder disease. In addition, 40 percent of seniors have a combination of disorders which create a condition known as metabolic syndrome, putting people at an even greater risk of obesity related diseases including:
Women generally accumulate fat around the hips but as they reach menopause, it begins to accumulate around the waist. The “apple shape” appearance is a contributing factor to heart disease and other medical conditions and is more prevalent in older women.
Dietary changes and weight loss can help to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Osteoporosis and Falls
Though men do get osteoporosis, it is more common in women. Osteoporosis affects almost 44 million over the age of 50, mostly women. Each year, over one-third of seniors experience a fall and up to 30 percent of those will suffer injuries that result in decreased mobility. Osteoporosis is a contributor of injuries related to falls and fall-related injuries are one of the leading causes of death in the elderly.
Women are at greater risk from osteoporosis due to hormonal differences and calcium deficiencies. Calcium stores are depleted during pregnancy and are often never replaced. Women are also likely to avoid dairy products which contain high calcium levels due to fat content and the general population is now less likely to spend time in the sun, which creates Vitamin D. This results in a deficiency of both Calcium and Vitamin D in many women.
Exercise and dietary consumption of Calcium and Vitamin D containing food or supplements may reduce the risk of injury related to osteoporosis.
The risk for developing most cancer types increases with age but women are at risk for gender-related cancers such as cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, and breast cancer. Women tend to “slack off” on regular gynecological exams after childbearing years have passed and cancers are less likely to be detected.
Menopause also brings increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers due to changing hormone levels and women who have taken hormone replacement therapy are at increased risk for endometrial cancer. In addition to gender-related cancers, the risk of colon cancer also goes up, particularly if other risk factors such as obesity are in play.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been considered to be a “man’s disease” but as our lifestyles have changed, so has the disease risk. Cardiovascular disease affects over one-third of all adults over the age of 45, with the risk increasing as we age. Lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and low fiber diet increase the chance of heart disease. Medical conditions such as hyperlipidemia, obesity and diabetes also increase the risk and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the elderly.
Exercise, dietary changes, blood sugar control, reducing alcohol consumption and discontinuing smoking can dramatically reduce the risk of CVD.
Other Health Conditions
Both men and women who are in the senior age range are at higher risk of other diseases, simply due to aging. These include:
Make sure the senior you care for has regular check ups with their physicians. It’s important to detect these conditions early to begin treatment as soon as possible.
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