Judson Haims: Hello, 50, and health conditions that change with age
Special to The Aspen Times
Aging is a somewhat strange thing. It’s not really linear nor is it consistent. Some people live extremely active lives in good health well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. However, others encounter challenges either by luck of the draw or, perhaps, from poor life choices. You can’t stop the aging process, but you can educate yourself with tools that will promote better outcomes (if that’s what you want).
In many ways the human body is miraculous — boo boos heal, bones repair and illnesses pass. However, our bodies are not meant to last forever. Over time, things change: our cells, organs and tissue change and function with less efficiently.
While there are many physiological changes we have little control of, some of the most impactful are ones we can influence. Arthritis, heart disease (HD) and diabetes are all debilitating ailments we can influence for a better quality of life.
Arthritis is an inflammation joint disease that affects people of all ages and sexes. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and there are many causes and treatments.
One of the most common types is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA often causes joints in the wrist, hands and feet to become inflamed, swollen and stiff as a result of the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking cells in the joint lining. It’s an autoimmune disease that effects women more often than men.
RA symptoms typically begin slowly over time. Often, people start to notice stiffness, pain and tenderness in their joints. Sometimes these symptoms present themselves for a while and then disappear. Unfortunately, once symptoms reappear, the frequency of recurrence often increases.
The first line of defense for RA is a diet that limits inflammation. Diets consisting of fruits, vegetables rich in antioxidants, fish, nuts, whole grains, beans and lentils have shown to be helpful. Some foods that may exacerbate inflammation are processed meats, red meat, foods high in gluten and foods high in sugar and salts.
Heart disease is the single largest cause of death after age 65 in the United States. HD is often caused by elevated cholesterol levels causing plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries. As arteries get clogged and blood supply to the heart is diminished, people become at greater risk of a heart attack.
If you think that HD caused from elevated cholesterol levels only happens to “older people,” you’re dead wrong. According to a report from the CDC, almost 9% of adolescents between 16 and 19 years of age have high total cholesterol. If you have a high school-aged child, this means that about one of your child’s 10 friends is at great risk.
Bringing it closer to home, if you’re reading this article, your high school years are most likely behind you and you are of an age where this may be relative. A report from the CDC states, “about 1 in 13 (7.7%) white men and 1 in 14 (7.1%) Black men have coronary heart disease. About 1 in 17 (5.9%) Hispanic men have coronary heart disease.” And, according to Harvard Health, “as many as 4% to 10% of all heart attacks occur before age 45.”
Some of the ways our cholesterol levels can be managed is by monitoring our weight, eating a healthy diet and getting exercise at least three times a week. However, this is only a part of what it takes to lower risk. Perhaps a more effective approach to reducing the prevalence of HD may be to monitor heart risks.
Cardiovascular tests such as a nuclear stress test, a coronary calcium scan, a cardiac MRI, or cardiac computerized tomography scan are great tools for assessing your risks and deciding the next steps.
Diabetes comes in two types: type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is not producing enough insulin and therefore causes blood sugar levels to be high. When blood sugar cannot get into cells, it builds up in the bloodstream and damages the body.
Type 2 diabetes is different. In type 2, the body loses its ability to respond to insulin. While it may develop in children, it most often occurs in people older than the age of 40. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.
Some of the signs and symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, unexplained weight loss, frequent urination and blurry vision. By proactively taking steps to monitor key health indicators, it’s possible to prevent some of the risks of diabetes.
Arthritis, heart disease and diabetes are three common health problems that can prevent you from living the life you want. These conditions and others that creep up on us can be managed. Caught early and addressed promptly, we can prevent complications. Don’t be in denial — be proactive and, odds are, you’ll live a better quality of life as you age.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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