As baby boomers age, they must deal with the challenges of aging. Healthy living is important as age is a risk factor for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Members of the baby boom generation — the name given to the 76 million people born from 1946 to 1964 — are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Many are well into their retirement years or are just aging into Medicare and are still working.
“Although the risk of developing chronic health problems increases with age, the root causes of many of these conditions begin earlier in life,” says Reyzan Shali, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Vista.
“Research has shown that people who eat healthy, stay active and avoid tobacco use can significantly lower their risk of developing many of the chronic health conditions we often associate with aging,” Dr. Shali adds.
The following are the top 10 health concerns of the baby boom generation:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of adults with diabetes has more than tripled in the last 20 years. This coincides with the aging of the US population and an increase in obesity rates. Obesity is one of the leading risk factors for diabetes.
Diabetes increases the risk of serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, vision loss, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems, amputation and cardiovascular disease.
With lifestyle changes and proper medical care, diabetes and its associated risks can be managed.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women over age 60. After age 45, the risk increases significantly. Coronary artery disease, in which the arteries that deliver blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked, is the most common type of heart disease and a main cause of heart attacks.
Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk of heart disease by changing what you can control.
“Heart disease risk falls significantly when people avoid tobacco use, control their blood pressure and cholesterol through exercise and a low-fat, low-sodium diet and maintain a healthy body weight,” says Dr. Shali.
Cancer impacts people of all ages, races, ethnicities and sexes. For most cancers, though, increasing age is the most important risk factor, according to the CDC.
“The good news is that cancer-related death rates are declining instead of rising, and that means the chances of surviving cancer is now higher than compared to the past,” says Dr. Shali.
As we age, cancer screenings are routinely used to detect cancers at early stages, possibly before you can feel symptoms. Many forms of cancer can be linked to lifestyle and behavior choices. To lower your risk of cancer, it is important to make healthy dietary choices, exercise, avoid tobacco products and maintain a healthy weight.
Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Depression, especially in midlife or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present.
“It is important for both physicians and patients to recognize that depression is not a normal process of aging,” says Dr. Shali. “Unfortunately, many patients feel uncomfortable with the subject of depression. Many feel that seeking help is a sign of weakness. It is very important for you to accept that you need help. Your primary care physician is a great start for help.”
Cataracts affect 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older. That number is expected to increase to 30.1 million by 2020, according to the CDC.
Recent advancements have improved the precision and safety of cataract surgery, resulting in faster surgeries, easier and shorter recoveries and in some cases, better vision than before surgery.
Annual eye exams can help catch vision problems in their earliest stages.
Age is the best-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, one of the leading causes of death in the US. Symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60. In 2013, five million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to 14 million, according to the CDC.
“Emerging evidence suggests a close link between brain health and overall health of the heart and blood vessels,” says Dr. Shali.
There is no clear evidence yet what causes Alzheimer’s, but it has been shown that avoiding tobacco and pursuing a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and physical activity can help maintain brain health.
When the cartilage that cushions your bones at the joints begins to break down, the bones begin to rub together. The resulting pain, swelling and stiffness is called osteoarthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key in preventing excessive pressure on your joints that can cause this type of damage to the cartilage. If the damage is severe, joints may need to be surgically replaced.
Daily exercise, such as walking, aquatic therapy and yoga can assist in maintaining joint flexibility.
Osteoporosis affects about 25 percent of women aged 65 and over, and about 5 percent of men aged 65 and over. Many people with osteoporosis don’t know they have it until they break a bone.
Prevention is key to avoid weakening of your bones associated with osteoporosis. Currently, screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women 65 and over and for women who are 50 to 64 and have certain risk factors, such as having a parent who has broken a hip.
Tobacco and alcohol use earlier in life can increase risk, as can being underweight. Talk to your doctor about calcium supplements and other treatments that can help prevent osteoporosis.
Influenza and pneumonia are among the top causes of death for older adults. People 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu as our immune defenses become weaker with age.
Vaccinations are now widely available for both diseases and are usually covered by health insurance or available at a very low cost. Ask your doctor if you should be vaccinated.
In addition to caring for their own families, many boomers are caring for elderly parents. The stress of being a dual caregiver can be significant, especially on individuals who are also working, struggling financially or dealing with other challenges.
“It’s important to take care of yourself first,” says Dr. Shali. “Make an effort to get enough sleep, eat right and exercise regularly.”