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Women’s Senior Health: Aging Well

Women—take care of your health because you have a greater chance of reaching 100 than ever before. Right now, the U.S. has 53,364 centenarians and eight out of 10 are female. AARP estimates that the number of people aged 100 and over will increase 900 percent by the year 2050.
Boomers are marching into their “senior years” in record numbers and have parents living well into their 80s and 90s. By 2030 one in five Americans will be over 65 years of age. And of those older adults, 80 percent have at least one chronic medical condition. The top five are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

Heart Disease in Women

Even though men are usually associated heart problems, more women, ins fact, die of heart disease than men. Women’s symptoms are different than the dramatic chest pain associated with male heart attacks. For women, the symptoms can be neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; right arm pain; nausea or vomiting; sweating; lightheadedness or dizziness; and unusual fatigue.
Women may downplay their symptoms and often receive help after damage has occurred.
A healthy diet, with most recommending the Mediterranean consisting of fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil, along with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day can keep heart disease from developing in many adults.
A new study of more than 3.5 million Americans finds that married people are less likely than singles, divorced or widowed to suffer any type of heart or blood vessel problem. This was true with even those with high cholesterol or diabetes according to researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Nearly two-thirds of the participants were female with an average age of 64.
Married people had a 5 percent lower risk of heart disease followed by those widowed, who had a 3 percent higher risk. Single participants had a 5 percent greater risk compared to their married peers.
The study did not uncover any direct correlation between marriage and heart-related disease other than support with medical appointments, diet and exercise, and taking medications.

Breast Cancer

As you age, the chances of getting breast cancer increase. During the years of 2006-2010, the median age of breast cancer diagnosis was 61. While statistics show a decrease in women over 80, it is thought to be due to lower rates of screening and detection.

Hip Replacement
Getting a total hip replacement may be good for your health according to researchers from Exponent, Inc, an engineering and consulting firm. A study presented last year at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons looking at 24,000 patients with osteoarthritis of the hip, comparing those who had a total hip replacement and those who did not, showed that patients who had a total hip replacement had a 52 percent less mortality rate over seven years than those who did not. In addition, they had a 40 percent lower risk of diabetes and a 31 percent lower risk of depression.
Pain relief and the ability to exercise and function was thought to have an overall effect on people’s health and alleviate depression, which is known to worsen diabetes and heart disease.

Memory Loss

Older women face an increased risk of breast cancer, but Alzheimer’s may pose a greater risk, according to a new report by the Alzheimer’s Association that found women in their sixties are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they are breast cancer. Here, men have better odds. Women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s at the age of 65 while men have a 1 in 11 chance of getting it.
When visiting an aging parent, pay attention to small things that may indicate health problems. The Mayo Clinic advises caregivers to look at the aging parent’s appearance. Not keeping up with tooth brushing, bathing and other basic grooming can be an indicator of dementia, depression or physical impairments. Also be on the look out for neglected housework. Scorched pots can mean food is forgotten on the stove.  Aging and certain medications may cause modest memory loss and are not cause for alarm. There is a difference between normal memory loss and signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. There is a difference between not finding the keys versus getting lost in familiar neighborhoods; being unable to follow directions or forgetting common words on a regular basis.
Weight loss can indicate your parent is having difficulty cooking or reading labels or directions on food products. They may not have an interest in food if it doesn’t taste or smell as good as it did before. At its worst, it can indicate malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer.

Do-It-Yourself Tests for Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Researchers at Northwestern University found that the inability to recognize famous faces could be an indicator of primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia that is marked by a loss of tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Just pick up a magazine and see if you can name the faces of the famous people, both first and last names. A score of less than 50 percent may warrant a cognitive evaluation.

One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is dysfunction in the olfactory cortex. The sense of smell deteriorates before memory. The Journal of the Neurological Sciences recently published a test using peanut butter to determine sense of smell. Early Alzheimer’s was detected in those who could not smell the peanut butter until it was almost 5 inches closer to the left nostril than the right.

Boosting Self-Esteem

Raising or maintaining self–esteem in seniors may actually be good preventive medicine. A new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that when a person’s self-esteem decreased, the stress hormone cortisol increased and vice versa. Researchers at Concordia University’s Centre for Research in Human Development met with adults over 60 years of age and measured their cortisol levels, self-esteem, stress and symptoms of depression at two years and four years. Just maintaining self-esteem appeared to contribute to patterns of healthy aging.

National Institutes of Health Health screening guidelines for women over 65

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) promotes the following guidelines for women over 65 to screen for diseases; assess their risk of future medical problems; encourage a healthy lifestyle; update vaccinations; and, maintain a relationship with medical professionals in case of an illness.

Even if you feel fine, it is still important to see your health care provider regularly to check for potential problems. Most people who have high blood pressure don't even know it. The only way to find out is to have your blood pressure checked regularly. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels often do not produce any symptoms until the disease becomes advanced.
There are specific times when you should see your health care provider. Age-specific guidelines are as follows:

• Blood pressure screening: Have your blood pressure checked every year. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or certain other conditions, you may need to be watched more closely.

• Cholesterol screening: If your cholesterol level is normal, have it rechecked every 3-5 years. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, or certain other conditions, you may need to be monitored more closely.

• Colon cancer screening: Until age 75, one of the following screening tests should be done: Virtual colonoscopy (computed tomographic colonography) every 5 years. A stool test every year.Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years along with a stool guaiac test. Colonoscopy every 10 years

• Dental exam: Go to the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning.

• Diabetes screening: If your blood pressure is above 135/80, your health care provider will test your blood sugar levels for diabetes.

Note: Patients with risk factors for colon cancer, including ulcerative colitis, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or a history of large colorectal adenomas may need a colonoscopy more often.

• Eye exam: Have an eye exam every 2 years. Make sure your health care provider checks for glaucoma.

• Hearing test: Have your hearing tested every year.

• Immunizations:If you are over age 65, get a pneumococcal vaccine if you have never had before, or if you received one more than 5 years before you turned 65. Get a flu shot every year. Get a tetanus-diphtheria booster every 10 years.
You may get a shingles or herpes zoster vaccination once after age 60.

• Physical exam: Have a yearly physical exam. With each exam, you should have your height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) checked. Routine diagnostic tests are not recommended unless your doctor finds a problem. Your health care provider will ask you questions about alcohol and tobacco use, your diet, exercise, safety such as seat belt use, and may ask you about depression

• Breast exams: Women may do a monthly breast self-exam.
Contact your doctor or nurse immediately if you notice a change in your breasts, whether or not you do self-exams. A health care provider should do a complete breast exam every year.

• Mammograms: Women should have a mammogram done every 1-2 years, depending on their risk factors, to check for breast cancer.

• Osteoporosis screening: All women should have a bone density test (DEXA scan). Ask your doctor or nurse about how much calcium you need and what exercises can help prevent osteoporosis.

• Pelvic exam and Pap smear: After age 65, most women can stop having Pap smears as long as they have had three negative tests within the past 10 years.

Source:  National Institutes of Health

Published: April 25, 2014
Issue: Spring 2014 Issue