The Five Most Common Chronic Illnesses That Develop by Age 65

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Doctors joke that our body’s warranty runs out after age 30. What happens next to a person’s health is totally up to them. Lifestyle, eating habits, whether one engages in preventative measures or not, and consistent checkups at the doctor’s all affect the state of our health.

At 40, our body becomes even more vulnerable, according to the results of a study that took into account data from 370,000 adult residents of Northern Europe. From this age forward, the risk of contracting a dangerous illness grows exponentially and doubles every eight years. The data from this study shows that the most important factor connected to the risk of developing the most common chronic illnesses affecting life expectancy is the aging mechanism itself. Some studies show that by 60, each of us has acquired up to five chronic illnesses, most affecting the quality of life and life expectancy.

Is 65 a dangerous age?

Currently, the largest and fastest-growing group of people in the world is the group which is aged 60 and older. This is the result of a rise in birth rates (the so-called “baby boom”) which was characteristic of Western Europe and North America between the 40s and 60s of the previous century, combined with sudden major breakthroughs in medicine leading to a higher life expectancy and a more active senior lifestyle. All these factors resulted in most of the earth’s population is made up of the elderly. It is believed that by the year 2050 – of the almost 10 billion inhabitants on earth – 2 billion of them will be around 60 years old.

Unfortunately, few people reach this age in good health. According to data from the World Health Organization, almost a quarter of serious illnesses, as well as deaths, occur in the years between 60 and 65. Furthermore, it’s unfortunate that in most cases, people could lower the risk of developing these illnesses, which affect their quality of life, simply by adopting good habits, a healthy lifestyle, and making it to the doctor in time.

What makes chronic illnesses dangerous?

Having just one chronic illness, which affects life expectancy when you are 60 or older, doubles the chances of dying prematurely.  This was the conclusion of a study conducted under the direction of Emanuele Di Angelantonio. Each “additional” illness doubles the chances of a premature death yet again etc. If at 60, you have been diagnosed with two chronic illnesses affecting life expectancy, you will live twelve years less than your healthier peers. If you have three of these illnesses, then you should subtract fifteen years from the average life expectancy.

Which illnesses are the most dangerous?

The authors of this study observed that in Western Europe and the USA today, roughly 10 million people over the age of 60 have been diagnosed with one or more illnesses that could decrease their life expectancy. The most common and most dangerous of these are heart disease, cancer, neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other types of elderly dementia), diabetes, and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Practically all of these illnesses are due to genetic predisposition, but also eating habits, and lifestyle choices greatly affect the development of these illnesses (especially as one grows older). 

Heart disease: risk and preventative measures

Heart disease is still the greatest killer in the world, it is responsible for about a quarter of all deaths. Genetic and inherited predisposition makes up for 20% of the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, while the rest is dictated by lifestyle. Here are some preventative measures to consider to lower the risk of developing heart disease:

  • Lead an active lifestyle (the WHO recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week for adults, as well as strength training 2-3 times a week), and adhere to healthy eating habits, meaning you avoid easy carbs and trans fats, eat less sugar and salt, and also eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables which are rich in good fats.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Control your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate, and once a year, get a heart checkup using cardiograms, ultrasounds, and other methods.

Cancer – the cause of one in six deaths in the world

The close runner-up for the cause of death after heart disease is cancer. Every sixth death in the world is connected to oncological illnesses. More than 50% of these deaths occur in people who are older than 65. Today, researchers believe that this is the result of two factors: the increasing inability of our body to repair damaged DNA and the growing amount of potentially harmful mutations in our genome.

Currently, early diagnosis is the most important factor in the successful treatment of oncological illnesses. That is why it’s important to get various tests done annually like a colonoscopy, fluorography, CT scan of your lungs, mammography, and cervical exam, to discover tumors early on. Another important preventative measure is to have an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits. Eat foods rich in fiber and vitamin D and abstain from processed meats. You should also quit smoking and lower your alcohol intake to lower the risk of developing cancer.

Dementia – every third person’s illness?

The WHO predicts that by 2030 neurological disorders will become the third most common cause of death. In addition, the number of people with Parkinson’s will double, and the number of people with Alzheimer’s will triple.

Age is the main risk factor for both of these illnesses, and it is very rare for young patients to develop them. At the age of 65, Alzheimer’s disease is likely to be found in 2 out of every 1000 people per year, and every five years after that, the number doubles.

Unfortunately, modern treatments cannot completely cure this illness, but if it is diagnosed early on, it’s possible to significantly slow its development and put off the more serious stages for a few years or even decades. This is why after age 65, it is important to see a neurologist consistently (even if you don’t have any worrying symptoms) and pay attention if your memory or other cognitive functions start to degrade. It is also important to include preventative measures in your life, and doctors suggest taking care of your brain from an early age.

In addition to challenging your brain – learning a foreign language, doing math problems, crosswords, and other intellectual exercises – doctors have also identified several other important methods to help prevent cognitive disorders. A few examples are physical activity (since sports help to dismantle dangerous proteins which can block the normal functioning of your neural pathways), drinking water regularly (water literally dissolves plaques almost as soon as they appear), and relationships. Social connection, intimacy, security, and close relationships are some of the most effective ways of preventing dementia.

Diabetes – the European epidemic

Already nine years ago, specialists from the WHO were talking about the epidemic of diabetes in Europe. Today more than 60 million residents of Europe have Type 2 diabetes. 10.3% of men and 9.6% of women over the age of 25 are registered as having it, while the number of cases of diabetes is growing all the time across all age groups. Among the factors most strongly contribute to the risk of diabetes, age is in the first place, with obesity from an unhealthy lifestyle coming a close second. Doctors have also observed the danger of metabolic syndrome – a state in which the cells’ tolerance to glucose increases. This condition is also called being pre-diabetic.

How can you prevent diabetes? First of all, by controlling the glucose level in your blood and going to the doctor at the first sign of symptoms (thirst, constant urination, worsened eyesight, sores and abrasions on your legs, and unexplained weight gain). Secondly, eat healthily: reduce the foods containing sugar and quick carbs, and increase the number of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as stay away from sugary drinks. Finally, regular physical activity, especially when you switch from intense to lighter workouts, helps to keep your blood sugar level normal and even lower it.

Lung disease – kills one in twenty people

In 2015, 5% of deaths worldwide were connected to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Although most cases occur in poorer countries, lung disease presents a grave danger to the people in Western and Northern Europe. COPD is one of the chronic illnesses which a person is much more likely to develop by the age of 65 and impacts life expectancy.

You should see a doctor if, over the course of two weeks or more, you experience the following symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest constriction, poor sleep, weight loss, and fatigue.

The most important thing you can do to prevent lung-related illnesses and discover them early is to do an annual fluorography and CT scan of your lungs if necessary.  You should also quit smoking and do sports that expand your lung volume and help keep your lungs healthy.

Awareness – the best “pill for old age”

Despite the high chances of developing chronic illnesses that affect life expectancy, after 65, each of us has the opportunity to lower his or her risk and join the ranks of the octogenarians. These simple rules: regular checkups, an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, abstaining from bad habits and getting medical help in time seriously lower the risk of developing chronic illnesses and increase the chances of a long life expectancy.

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