As baby boomers age, they must deal with the challenges of aging. That is why healthy living and regular check-ups with your doctor are more important as time goes by.
Age is a risk factor for several chronic conditions, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Add COVID-19 to this list as the risk of severe illness from the coronavirus increases with age.
Healthy living cannot be overstated for members of the baby boomer generation — the name given to the 76 million people born from 1946 to 1964. Boomers 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.
“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,” says Christopher Cutter, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Vista.
COVID-19 can be prevented through vaccination and other preventive measures, such as wearing a mask, physical distancing and washing your hands. Nevertheless, it remains one of the top health challenges facing baby boomers. Read our list for a closer look.
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 prevented, delayed and 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 is something to watch out for. It is a condition where the arteries that deliver blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked. And it 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. Cutter.
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 are now higher than compared to the past,” says Dr. Cutter.
Cancer screenings are important as we get older. They are routinely used to detect cancers at early stages, possibly before symptoms can even be felt.
Healthy choices matter too. Many forms of cancer can be linked to lifestyle and behavior choices. To lower your risk of cancer, eat healthy, exercise, avoid tobacco products and keep a healthy weight.
More than six million people — mainly 65 and older — are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and the numbers are growing. It is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
The disease develops in stages and affects memory, thinking, learning and ability to carry out simple daily activities.
Research continues on the causes of Alzheimer’s. “Emerging evidence suggests a close link between brain health and overall health of the heart and blood vessels,” says Dr. Cutterr.
Avoiding tobacco, eating healthy and exercising can help maintain brain health.
Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in midlife or late adulthood can occur at the same time as other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present.
“Depression is not a normal process of aging,” says Dr. Cutter. “Unfortunately, many patients feel uncomfortable with the subject. Many feel that seeking help is a sign of weakness. So, it is very important to accept that you may need help. Your primary care physician is a great start.”
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 those who are also working, struggling financially or dealing with other challenges.
“It’s important to take care of yourself first,” says Dr. Cutter. “Make an effort to get enough sleep, eat right and exercise regularly.”
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, often referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis.
Most patients with osteoarthritis or OA are over the age of 60. Women are more likely than men to get it, especially after age 50.
Symptoms may range from mild discomfort to disabling pain, swelling and stiffness.The disease most often affects the hands, hips, knees and spine.Treatment depends on the symptoms and severity of the disease.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key in preventing excessive pressure on the joints, which can cause damage to the cartilage. Daily exercise, such as walking, aquatic therapy and yoga, can assist in maintaining joint flexibility.
If the OA is severe, joints may need to be surgically replaced.
Osteoporosis is mostly found in women 65 and older and men over 70. It occurs when the density and quality of their bones have significantly decreased. Often called a silent disease, 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. Screening for osteoporosis is recommended for:
- Women 65 and over
- 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 the risk of osteoporosis, so can being underweight. Talk to your doctor about calcium supplements and other treatments that can help prevent osteoporosis.
Flu 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.
There are two vaccines that offer protection against pneumonia among adults 65 and older. Talk to your doctor to determine whether one or both vaccines are appropriate for you.
Older unvaccinated adults are more likely to be hospitalized or die if infected by the virus that causes COVID-19. The bottom line is that the COVID-19 vaccines — in addition to other preventive measures — are effective in preventing both infections and deaths. Visit vaccines.gov to find a vaccine location near you.