This section includes text excerpted from “Heart Health,” National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), August 21, 2017.
Your heart is a strong muscle about the size of the palm of your hand. Just like an engine makes a car go, the heart keeps your body running. The heart has two pumps. The stronger pump uses arteries to send blood with oxygen away from the heart, throughout the body. The other pump uses veins to bring blood back to the heart and sends it to the lungs to get more oxygen. An electrical system in the heart controls the heart pumps (the heart beat or pulse).
As you get older, it is important for you to have your blood pressure checked regularly, even if you are healthy. You may feel fine, but if not treated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke and problems with your heart, eyes, and kidneys. Exercise and reducing salt in your diet can help, but often medication is needed to manage high blood pressure and the related problems.
Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels. For example, as you get older, your heart can't beat as fast during physical activity or stress as when you were younger. However, the number of heart beats per minute (heart rate) at rest does not change as you age.
A common problem related to aging is “hardening of the arteries,” called arteriosclerosis. This problem is why blood pressure goes up with age.
Age can cause other changes to the heart. For example:
Other factors, such as thyroid disease or chemotherapy, may weaken the heart muscle. Things you can't control, like your family history, might also increase your risk of heart disease. But even so, leading a heart-healthy lifestyle might help you avoid or delay serious illness.
There are many different kinds of heart disease. The most common is atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits or plaques in the walls of arteries. As plaque builds up, there is less space for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen throughout the body, including to the heart. Depending on where the build-up is, it can cause a heart attack, leg pain, or a stroke. Atherosclerosis is not part of normal aging and can be serious. There are choices you can make to prevent or delay heart disease, including:
Your doctor will check your blood pressure and do a blood test to check your cholesterol, a fat that can add to plaques in your arteries. He or she might also do a blood test for CRP (C-reactive protein) and suggest you have an ECG or EKG, an electrocardiogram. This is a test that looks at electrical activity in your heart.
Early heart disease often doesn't have symptoms, or the symptoms may be barely noticeable. This is especially true in older adults. That's why regular check-ups with your doctor are important.
Contact your doctor right away if you feel any chest pain. However, as you get older, chest pain is a less common sign of heart disease, so be aware of other symptoms. Tell your doctor if you feel:
Problems with a rapid or irregular heartbeat are much more common in older adults than younger people and need to be treated. See a doctor if you feel a fluttering in your chest or have the feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too hard, especially if you are weaker than usual, dizzy, or tired. If you have any signs of heart disease, your doctor may send you to see a cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in the heart.
This section includes text excerpted from “Brain Health: You Can Make a Difference!” Eldercare Locator, U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA), November 20, 2014.
Reviewed September 2017.
There are many lifestyle choices you can make to maintain a healthy body as you age. But what about the steps you can take to support a healthy brain as you grow older? This section will provide you with some information and guidance to help you make smart choices about your brain health with each passing year.
As you grow older, you may notice differences in the way your mind works. You may have difficulty finding the correct words, multitasking or paying attention. The good news is that even if you have already noticed some of these changes, you are still able to learn new things, create new memories, and improve vocabulary and language skills.
Some health conditions can negatively affect your brain. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes can alter, or damage blood vessels throughout your body, including the brain. Alzheimer disease and other types of dementia also harm the brain. While no one knows how to prevent dementia, many approaches that are good for your health in other ways, including engaging in exercise and eating a healthy diet, are being tested.
Drinking alcohol can slow or impair communication among your brain cells. This can cause slurred speech, a fuzzy memory, drowsiness, and dizziness; it can also lead to long-term difficulties with your balance, memory, coordination, and body temperature.
The risks associated with smoking are heart attacks, stroke, and lung disease.
Older adults are at higher risk of falling and other accidents that can cause brain injury.
Try to maintain a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats (including fish and poultry), and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Monitor your intake of solid fat, sugar, and salt, and eat proper portion sizes.
Staying away from alcohol can reverse some negative changes related to brain health.
Quitting smoking at any age will be beneficial to the health of your mind and body. Nonsmokers have a lower risk of heart attacks, stroke and lung diseases, as well as increased blood circulation.
To reduce the risk of falling, exercise to improve balance and coordination, take a falls prevention class, and make your home safer.
Keep your mind active by doing mentally stimulating activities like reading, playing games, learning new things, teaching or taking a class and being social. Older adults who remain active and engaged with others by doing activities like volunteering report being happier and healthier overall.
You can start to support your brain health with some small, first steps, and build from there.
This section includes text excerpted from “Aging and Your Eyes,” National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 6, 2017.
Are you holding the newspaper farther away from your eyes than you used to? Join the crowd—age can bring changes that affect your eyesight. Some changes are more serious than others, but for many problems, there are things you can do to protect your vision. The key is to have regular eye exams so you can spot problems early.
Have your eyes checked regularly by an eye care professional—either an ophthalmologist or optometrist. People over age 60 should have dilated eye exams yearly. During this exam, the eye care professional will put drops in your eyes to widen (dilate) your pupils so that he or she can look at the back of each eye. This is the only way to find some common eye diseases that have no early signs or symptoms. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, your prescription should be checked, too. See your doctor regularly to check for diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. These diseases can cause eye problems if not controlled or treated.
See an eye care professional right away if you:
The following common eye problems can be easily treated. But, sometimes they can be signs of more serious issues.
The following eye conditions can lead to vision loss and blindness. They may have few or no early symptoms. Regular eye exams are your best protection. If your eye care professional finds a problem early, often there are things you can do to keep your eyesight.
Low vision means you cannot fix your eyesight with glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. Low vision affects some people as they age. You may have low vision if you:
If you have any of these problems, ask your eye care professional to test you for low vision. Special tools can help people with low vision to read, write, and manage daily tasks. These tools include large-print reading materials, magnifying aids, closed-circuit televisions, audio tapes, electronic reading machines, and computers with large print and a talking function.
Other tips that may help:
Remember to ask your eye doctor if your vision is okay for safe driving.
If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focused on one thing, you can forget to blink. Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet for 20 seconds to prevent eye strain.
This section includes text excerpted from “Hearing Loss: A Common Problem for Older Adults,” National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), July 24, 2017.
Hearing loss is a common problem caused by noise, aging, disease, and heredity. People with hearing loss may find it hard to have a conversation with friends and family. They may also have trouble understanding a doctor's advice, responding to warnings, and hearing doorbells and alarms.
Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 has difficulty hearing. But some people may not want to admit they have trouble hearing. Older people who can't hear well may become depressed or may withdraw from others to avoid feeling frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said. Sometimes older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative because they don't hear well.
Hearing problems that are ignored or untreated can get worse. If you have a hearing problem, see your doctor. Hearing aids, special training, certain medicines, and surgery are some of the treatments that can help.
Some people have a hearing problem without realizing it. You should see your doctor if you:
Hearing loss comes in many forms. It can range from a mild loss, in which a person misses certain high-pitched sounds, such as the voices of women and children, to a total loss of hearing.
There are two general categories of hearing loss:
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing. It can happen to a person all at once or over a period of up to 3 days. It should be considered a medical emergency. If you or someone you know experiences sudden sensorineural hearing loss, visit a doctor immediately.
One type of hearing loss, called presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, comes on gradually as a person ages. It seems to run in families and may occur because of changes in the inner ear and auditory nerve. Having presbycusis may make it hard for a person to tolerate loud sounds or to hear what others are saying.
Tinnitus, also common in older people, is typically described as ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It can come and go. It might be heard in one or both ears, and it may be loud or soft. Tinnitus can accompany any type of hearing loss and can be a sign of other health problems, such as high blood pressure or allergies, or a side effect of medications.
Loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Noise from lawn mowers, snow blowers, or loud music can damage the inner ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss. Loud noise also contributes to tinnitus. You can prevent most noise-related hearing loss. Protect yourself by turning down the sound on your stereo, television, or headphones; moving away from loud noise; or using earplugs or other ear protection.
Earwax or fluid buildup can block sounds that are carried from the eardrum to the inner ear. If wax blockage is a problem, try using mild treatments, such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial ear drops to soften earwax. A punctured ear drum can also cause hearing loss. The eardrum can be damaged by infection, pressure, or putting objects in the ear, including cotton-tipped swabs. See your doctor if you have pain or fluid draining from the ear.
Viruses and bacteria (including the ear infection otitis media), a heart condition, stroke, brain injury, or a tumor may affect your hearing.
Hearing loss can also result from taking certain medications. “Ototoxic” medications damage the inner ear, sometimes permanently. Some ototoxic drugs include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease. Some antibiotics are ototoxic. Even aspirin at some dosages can cause problems. Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication.
Heredity can cause hearing loss, as well. But not all inherited forms of hearing loss take place at birth. Some forms can show up later in life. For example, in otosclerosis, which is thought to be a hereditary disease, an abnormal growth of bone prevents structures within the ear from working properly.
If you notice signs of hearing loss, talk to your doctor. If you have trouble hearing, you should:
Tips for Talking with Someone with Hearing Loss
Here are some tips you can use when talking with someone who has a hearing problem:
The most important thing you can do if you think you have a hearing problem is to seek professional advice. Your family doctor may be able to diagnose and treat your hearing problem. Or, your doctor may refer you to other experts, like an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), or an audiologist (health professional who can identify and measure hearing loss).
Your doctor or specialist may suggest you get a hearing aid. Hearing aids are electronic, battery-run devices that make sounds louder. There are many types of hearing aids. Before buying a hearing aid, ask if your health insurance will cover the cost. Also ask if you can have a trial period so you can make sure the device is right for you. An audiologist or hearing aid specialist will show you how to use your hearing aid.
Assistive listening devices, alerting devices, and cochlear implants can help some people with hearing loss. Alert systems can work with doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks to send you visual signals or vibrations. For example, a flashing light can let you know someone is at the door or the phone is ringing. Some people rely on the vibration setting on their cell phones to alert them to calls.
Cochlear implants are electronic devices for people with severe hearing loss. They don't work for all types of hearing loss.
This section includes text excerpted from “Menopause,” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), December 3, 2012.
Reviewed September 2017.
Menopause refers to the time in a woman's life when she stops having a menstrual period and is no longer fertile. The time leading up to menopause is called the menopausal transition, or perimenopause.
During perimenopause, a woman's ovaries start to produce less estrogen and progesterone. Changes in these hormones cause symptoms of menopause. Periods occur less often and eventually stop. Although this typically is a gradual process that happens over time, in some cases, a woman's periods will stop suddenly. Throughout perimenopause, ovulation—the release of eggs from the ovaries—also occurs less and less frequently.
Menopause is the point at which a woman has not had a period in 12 consecutive months. The time after menopause is called postmenopause, a phase that lasts for the rest of a woman's life.
All women experience menopause, usually between ages 45 and 55. The average age of menopause is 51, but it occurs earlier in some women. Women who smoke may go through menopause earlier than women who don't smoke.
However, perimenopause can begin several years earlier when levels of estrogen and progesterone first begin to fluctuate. Surgical or medical menopause is the term for a decrease in estrogen that is a result of surgery to remove the ovaries or uterus, or medical treatments such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy to treat breast cancer.
In the natural process of menopause, a woman's ovaries stop releasing eggs and making the hormones estrogen and progesterone. When this occurs, a woman stops having her period and is no longer fertile.
Menopause can also occur after surgical removal of a woman's ovaries or following chemotherapy or hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer.
Women typically notice the signs and symptoms of menopause without a formal diagnosis from their healthcare provider. A change in menstrual patterns and the appearance of hot flashes are usually the first signs.
Although blood tests are not required, healthcare providers can run blood or urine tests to determine levels of the hormones estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH). At menopause, the ovaries become less responsive to FSH and LH hormones, so the body makes more of these hormones to compensate. Estradiol and other hormones decrease around menopause as well.
A healthcare provider can use the test results to tell if a woman is in menopause.
During and after menopause, a woman should get regular physical, pelvic, breast, colorectal, and skin exams to monitor her health.
Menopause is a normal part of aging and every woman goes through it. It can't be prevented and normally doesn't require treatment. However, some symptoms of menopause can be lessened or perhaps even eliminated with treatment. Likewise, the risk of disorders or diseases associated with menopause, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, may benefit from treatment.
Physicians used to routinely prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogen and, sometimes, progesterone to treat the general symptoms of menopause. However, this is no longer routine after several large studies showed that HRT can raise the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.
If you are having trouble with menopause symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of what is now called menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), only women at low risk for stroke, heart disease, blood clots, and breast cancer are considered candidates for MHT—and only those who have entered menopause recently. MHT can be given in the forms of pills, creams, or skin patches. Most medical professionals recommend an individualized MHT plan for each woman based on the age of menopause. It is important to know that MHT may cause side effects, such as bleeding, bloating, breast tenderness or enlargement, headaches, mood changes, and nausea.
The loss of estrogen may also be associated with changes in cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes or are overweight, your healthcare provider may prescribe dietary changes or drugs to reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Medications commonly prescribed to treat osteoporosis include:
There are also many things you can do as part of a healthy lifestyle to help prevent bone loss:
Several prescription drugs are available to relieve hot flashes and night sweats:
There are also several practical things you can do on a daily basis to relieve these symptoms:
While irregular or missed periods are normal during perimenopause or the menopausal transition, women with very heavy bleeding or periods close together may want to talk to a healthcare provider about regulating their periods with one of the following:
MHT may be given in the form of a skin patch, vaginal tablet or cream, oral pill, implant, injection (shot), vaginal ring insert, gel, or spray.
If your healthcare provider determines that you are a candidate for MHT, he or she will prescribe the best form and dose to treat your particular symptoms.
MHT can relieve hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood swings. It also can help prevent bone loss, improve cholesterol levels, and lower the chances of colorectal cancer. But, like all hormones, MHT has side effects. They can include breast tenderness, cramping, bloating, spotting, or a return of regular periods.
In addition, several large research studies found that MHT increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer in some women. The risk of dementia in women who start MHT after age 65 also may be elevated.
Women should talk with their healthcare provider to decide if MHT is right for them. If MHT is causing side effects, the healthcare provider may change the type or dosage to decrease the side effects.
Some women use herbal supplements or other alternative remedies to relieve symptoms of menopause. Some supplements may relieve symptoms in some women, but more research is needed to prove which ones work and which do not. In some cases, herbal supplements and alternative therapies pose additional risks.
A woman eating a lot of soy or using herbal supplements in an effort to control symptoms should tell her healthcare provider, because these remedies can affect how prescription drugs work. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that herbal supplements are not as closely regulated by the government as prescription drugs.
Some of the commonly discussed nontraditional treatments are listed below.
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like substances found in some vegetables, legumes (such as soy), herbs, and grains that may relieve some symptoms of menopause. However, this hasn't been proven yet.
Black cohosh has not been proven to reduce hot flashes, but some women say it's helped them. Black cohosh has had a good safety record.
Red clover, which some women claim reduces hot flashes, was not proven in five controlled studies to be effective. However, few side effects and no serious health problems have been reported.
Ginseng may help with menopausal symptoms such as mood swings and sleep disturbances, but it has not been proven effective for hot flashes.
Evening primrose oil appears to have no effect on menopausal symptoms. Side effects include stomach upset and headache.
In general, everything that you would otherwise do to stay in good physical shape can help you stay healthy during and after menopause:
Menopause is associated with a higher risk of other health conditions, but the risks can be minimized by taking appropriate precautions under a healthcare provider's advice.
This section includes text excerpted from “8 Areas of Age-Related Change,” MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2007. Reviewed September 2017.
The weight-bearing bones and the movable joints take much wear and tear as the body ages. The most common age-related conditions are:
Osteoporosis(OA): Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones to the point where they break easily—most often bones in the hip, backbone (spine), and wrist—and most often in women. As people enter their 40s and 50s, bones begin to weaken. The outer shell of the bones also gets thinner.
About the age of 40, eyesight weakens, and at around 60, cataracts and macular degeneration may develop. Hearing also declines with age.
Presbyopia is a slow loss of ability to see close objects or small print. It is a normal process that happens as you get older. Holding the newspaper at arm's length is a sign of presbyopia. Reading glasses usually fix the problem.
Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye's lens causing loss of eyesight. Cataracts often form slowly without any symptoms. Some stay small and don't change eyesight very much. Others may become large or dense and harm vision. Cataract surgery can help. Cataract surgery is safe and is one of the most common surgeries done in the United States.
Glaucoma comes from too much pressure from fluid inside the eye. Over time, the pressure can hurt the optic nerve. This leads to vision loss and blindness. Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from the extra pressure. You can protect yourself by having annual eye exams that include dilation of the pupils.
Retinal disorders are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The most common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD affects the part of the retina (the macula) that gives you sharp central vision. Photodynamic therapy uses a drug and strong light to slow the progress of AMD. Another treatment uses injections. Ask your eye care professional if you have signs of AMD. Approximately 4.1 million U.S. adults 40 years and older have diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative disease affecting vision. Proper medical care, lifestyle changes, and frequent follow-ups can help reduce this alarming statistic.
About one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing problems. About half the people who are 85 and older have hearing loss.
Presbycusis is age-related hearing loss. It becomes more common in people as they get older. The decline is slow.
Tinnitus accompanies many forms of hearing loss, including those that sometimes come with aging. People with tinnitus may hear a ringing, roaring, or some other noise inside their ears. Tinnitus may be caused by loud noise, hearing loss, certain medicines, and other health problems, such as allergies and problems in the heart and blood vessels.
As we grow older, the prevalence of gastrointestinal problems increases. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close properly and stomach contents leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems. About 40 percent of adults ages 40 to 74—or 41 million people—have prediabetes, a condition that raises a person's risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Incontinence: Loss of bladder control is called urinary incontinence. It can happen to anyone, but is very common in older people. At least 1 in 10 people age 65 or older has this problem. Symptoms can range from mild leaking to uncontrollable wetting. Women are more likely than men to have incontinence. Aging alone does not cause incontinence. It can occur for many reasons: Urinary tract infections, vaginal infection or irritation, constipation, and certain medicines can cause bladder control problems that last a short time. In most cases urinary incontinence can be treated and controlled, if not cured. If you are having bladder control problems, don't suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH): The prostate gland surrounds the tube (urethra) that passes urine. This can be a source of problems as a man ages because the prostate tends to grow bigger with age and may squeeze the urethra. A tumor can also make the prostate bigger. These changes, or an infection, can cause problems passing urine. Sometimes men in their 30s and 40s may begin to have these urinary symptoms and need medical attention. For others, symptoms aren't noticed until much later in life.
Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among men in this country. Only skin cancer is more common. Out of every three men who are diagnosed with cancer each year, one is diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Tooth decay is not just a problem for children. It can happen as long as you have natural teeth in your mouth. Tooth decay ruins the enamel that covers and protects your teeth. When you don't take good care of your mouth, bacteria can cling to your teeth and form a sticky, colorless film called dental plaque. This plaque can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Gum disease can also cause your teeth to decay. Fluoride is just as helpful for adults as it is for children. Using a fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse can help protect your teeth.
Gum diseases (sometimes called periodontal or gingival diseases) are infections that harm the gum and bone that hold teeth in place. When plaque stays on your teeth too long, it forms a hard, harmful covering, called tartar, that brushing doesn't clean. The longer the plaque and tartar stay on your teeth, the more damage they cause. This is called gingivitis. If gingivitis is not treated, over time it can make your gums pull away from your teeth and form pockets that can get infected. This is called periodontitis. If not treated, this infection can ruin the bones, gums, and tissue that support your teeth. In time, it can cause loose teeth that your dentist may have to remove.
The simplest and cheapest way to keep your skin healthy and young looking is to stay out of the sun. Sunlight is a major cause of the skin changes we think of as aging—changes such as wrinkles, dryness, and age spots. Your skin does change with age. For example, you sweat less, leading to increased dryness. As your skin ages, it becomes thinner and loses fat, so it looks less plump and smooth. It's never too late to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun. People who smoke tend to have more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure. It may be because smoking also plays a role in damaging elastin proteins. Facial wrinkling increases with the number of cigarettes and number of years a person has smoked.
Just like chickenpox, people with shingles will feel sick and have a rash on their body or face. The major difference is that chickenpox is a childhood illness, while shingles targets older people. Most adults live with the virus in their body and never get shingles. But about one in five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles later in life—usually after the age of 50.
The more you take care of your overall health and well-being, the more likely you'll be to lower your chances of falling. Ask your doctor about a special test—called a bone mineral density test—that tells how strong your bones are. If need be, your doctor can prescribe new medications that will help make your bones stronger and harder to break.