Health aging

Healthy Aging: What’s Normal Versus What You Should Worry About

As the saying goes: growing old isn’t for the faint of heart! It takes a lot of work to make it through 50 or 60 years in this world. But the good news is if you take care of yourself, your golden years can be healthy, happy, and active.

However, there’s no denying your body changes with age. Some of it’s expected: our hair gets a little grayer (or falls out), our skin becomes more saggy, we don’t move quite as fast as we used to, and we may even have to work harder to remember things.

It’s all normal…or is it?

We’re here with an honest discussion of issues around aging, including what you can expect, what’s normal, and what’s a cause of concern.

Trouble Holding Your Urine

Nurse Holding Seniors Hand

The Problem: You know what we’re talking about: you sneeze or laugh hard, and you feel like you’re leaking. Or, suddenly, you REALLY HAVE TO GO and release a few drops before you can get to the bathroom.

What’s Happening: As we age, the muscles in and around our bladder may get weak, making it harder to hold our urine. Combine that with some normal bladder shrinkage, and you may experience the sensation of having to go quite often.

What You Can Do About It: Talk to your doctor. They may recommend exercises or physical therapy to help you regain strength and control.

What’s Not Normal: If you suddenly start losing control of your bladder or bowels, contact your doctor immediately.

You Gain Weight More Easily

Senior Couple

The Problem: When you were young, you could eat pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream and not gain a pound. But now that you’re past 55, it seems like you just look at a donut and gain weight.

What’s Happening: Many people slow down in two ways when they age: they stop exercising or moving as much. And a slowing metabolism, or the rate at which we burn our food for fuel, can also contribute to weight gain.

What You Can Do About It: These are great reasons to get active and stay active – even as few as 30 minutes of regular cardiovascular exercise a day can help boost your metabolism and keep you mobile, strong, and protect your bones.

What’s Not Normal: A rapid or sudden weight gain could be a symptom of a much larger problem, so you should see your doctor ASAP.

Your Memory isn’t What It Used to Be

Happy Senior Couple

The Problem: You run into the neighbor you’ve known for years at the grocery store…Ana? Amy? Michelle? You find yourself forgetting not only names but common words and occasionally what you’re doing.

What’s Happening: Beginning in middle age, your brain’s anatomy and chemistry start to change. Certain parts of your brain may be slowing down, shrinking, or becoming worn. These things can affect your ability to learn new information or retrieve information and memories (which is why you forgot your neighbor’s name).

What You Can Do About It: Exercise helps protect your brain at every age. There are many other healthy steps you can take to keep your brain sharp, such as maintaining strong social connections and learning new things

What’s Not Normal: If you start using the wrong words – for example, every time you want to say the word “computer” you say “blueberry” instead, you start becoming confused during everyday activities, or you’re experiencing personality changes – it’s time to see your doctor.

Your Body Feels Achy and Creaky

Exercise for Seniors

The Problem: When you do something physical, you pay for it the next day with aches and pains in your back, your knees, and everywhere else. And some days, even getting out of bed is a challenge!

What’s Happening: The cushioning that protects your joints can dry out and the tissues that hold your muscles and bones together stiffen. As you age, you’re also more likely to develop arthritis.

What You Can Do About It: Most normal, age-related aches and pains can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers or aids like heating pads or ice compresses. If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds can also take some of the pressure off your body.

When to Worry: If you still don’t get relief from pain relievers and rest. Or if you have pain that’s accompanied by weakness, fever, or strange sensations in that part of the body.

Your Vision is No Longer Sharp

Senior Person Smiling

The Problem: You put your glasses on to read something…then take them off again because they must not be working! At least, that’s what you hope even though you’re having trouble seeing far-away things, too.

What’s Happening: Your eyes can change with age. The lens inside the eye loses its ability to change shape, which is why it’s so difficult to focus. As we age, we are more likely to develop conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eyes, and loss of peripheral vision. All of these things can affect our vision.

What You Can Do About It: Start protecting your eyes now! If you have diabetes, you may need more frequent retinal exams, as well.

When It’s Not Normal: Go to the doctor immediately if you start experiencing “floaters” or flashing lights, which could be symptoms of retinal detachment. You should also see your doctor if you suddenly experience dramatic vision changes.

AltaMed Can Help You Grow Healthy at Every Age

Senior in Medical Checkup

Receiving the right care is important for maintaining and even improving your health as you age, and we’re here for you. Stay proactive with age-appropriate screenings and routine checkups. In addition to complete primary and specialty care services, we also have a program called AltaMed PACE for independent seniors with complex medical needs. No matter your age, we can help you grow healthy for life.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

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AltaMed showing arthritis on hands

All About Arthritis

Our bodies are amazing machines that outperform and outlast even the most advanced technology. But like a car or a washing machine, over time, things in our body break down. For some of us, it’s our joints and the tissues that hold them together – otherwise known as arthritis.

Arthritis isn’t just one type of pain or problem: in fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis that affect the joints, the tissues around the joint, and other connective tissue of the body.

The most common types of arthritis in adults includes:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is usually thought of as “wear and tear” arthritis and most frequently occurs in the hands, knees, and hips. It is often caused by injury, overuse, or repetitive stress on a joint.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a condition in which your immune system attacks healthy cells, producing painful inflammation. RA sufferers commonly experience pain in their hands, wrists, and knees, but RA can also affect the lungs, heart, and eyes.
  • Fibromyalgia is a form of arthritis where pain doesn’t just affect one or two places in the body – it can produce pain and stiffness all over the body, along with a general feeling of being “run down” or tired.
  • Gout is another form of arthritis that causes intense pain and usually affects only one joint at a time – most commonly, the big toe. Because of this, people with gout sometimes experience difficulty walking.

Who Gets Arthritis?

Arthritis is most frequently seen in adults over the age of 65, but it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults.

Senior Woman With Arthritis

Women are slightly more likely to suffer from arthritis than men – about one in four women have been diagnosed, compared to roughly one in five men. Some of the reasons for this are related to hormones; while some are related to the fact that, statistically speaking, women are more likely to be overweight or obese, which is a significant risk factor.

Bitten Donut

Those carrying extra weight are at higher risk for arthritis. Quite simply, the more weight that’s put on a joint, the more stressed it becomes. In fact, every pound of extra weight translates into 4 pounds of extra pressure on your knees. So if you’re 50 pounds overweight, you’re forcing 200 extra pounds of pressure on your knees. Additionally, fat itself can trigger inflammation in the body, making both OA and RA worse.

Woman Smoking

Smokers have increased risks for both RA and OA. In addition, they suffer worse pain than non-smokers; and, in the event they need joint replacement surgery, smokers have higher rates of complication and worse outcomes, compared to nonsmokers.

How Arthritis Differs from Other Aches and Pains

Woman Holding Knee in Pain

Unfortunately, as we age, many of us don’t feel as energetic as we once did, and our bodies may be slower to recuperate from exercise, stress, or fatigue. There are a few telltale signs that indicate it might be something more than just ‘overdoing it:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth or heat in the area of the affected joint
  • Rash near the affected joint
  • Grinding sensation
  • Fever

Unlike muscle strain or fatigue, arthritis doesn’t just go away: in fact, undiagnosed and untreated arthritis can result in permanent changes and damage to your joints.
If you have some of the joint symptoms described above that last for three days or more, or several different episodes of joint pain within a month, go see a doctor. Start with your general practitioner or family doctor; after which you may be referred to a specialist called a rheumatologist.

Treatments for Arthritis

Senior Woman Getting Physical Therapy

Because there are so many different types of arthritis, there are different ways to treat it. Treatment usually focuses on self-care and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend a home care program or send you to physical therapy.

Arthritis treatment may include medication, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, but some patients may require doctor-prescribed medication to help deal with pain or suppress inflammation. Those with advanced cases of arthritis may need to take medication that protect the joints or strengthen the bones.

In advanced cases, surgery to replace the affected joints (typically the knee or hip) is an option. The good news is that these surgeries have very high success rates, and the artificial joints can last a lifetime.

Protecting Yourself from Arthritis

Senior Woman Running on the Street

Like many other conditions, arthritis is something that runs in families. But there are steps you can take to cut your risk for developing this painful condition.

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat a healthful diet
  • If you have gout, eat chicken and healthy fish instead of beef, pork, and organ meats
  • Avoid (excessive consumption of) alcohol
  • Keep moving! Even a little exercise can be enough to keep you flexible and energized and avoiding exercise can leave you feeling stiff or weak. If you’ve never exercised or haven’t exercised in a while, check with your doctor first.

If you have pain that you think may be arthritis, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. If you catch it in the early stages, your doctor can suggest some simple lifestyle changes that can keep you moving and feeling healthy for years to come. If you don’t already have a doctor, find your nearest AltaMed location and give them a call.

AltaMed heart and stethoscope

The Nine Things You Need to Know to Keep Your Heart Healthy

You probably already know Valentine’s Day is coming up, but did you know February is Heart Health Month? So, instead of candy, we’re giving you these bite-sized tips to help you show your heart some love.

1. Heart Disease Runs in Families

Happy Family Smiling

To some degree, heart disease is thought to be ‘hereditary’ or ‘genetic:’ that is, it can be passed from one generation to another through the genes. However, having the genes for it doesn’t mean you are absolutely certain to develop heart disease: it just means you’re more at risk.

2. But There’s a Lot You Can Do to Prevent It

Man Working Out From Home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that about 80% of all heart disease deaths could have been prevented by following steps like eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and having regular health screenings.

3. All Fats Aren’t Created Equal

Avocado Cut In Half

Most of us have been trained to believe that all fats are bad. However, some sources of fat are actually good for you and may reduce your risk for heart disease.

  • Unsaturated fats are the good kind of fat, and they’re found in foods like avocados, nuts like almonds and walnuts, olive and canola oils, fish, and more. Enjoy in moderation.
  • Then there are saturated fats (found in whole milk products, red meat, skin-on chicken, among others) which should be limited to occasional eating; and trans fats, which should be avoided when possible as they increase both your cholesterol level and heart disease risk. They’re found in processed foods like fries, cakes and cookies, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza.

4.& Your Belly Could Tell You Your Risk

Man Eating Junk Food

If you have a lot of fat around your middle or belly, compared to your hips, you may be more likely to have heart disease (think being apple-shaped rather than pear-shaped.) One recent study found that women who carried their fat around their middles were twice as likely to have heart problems, including heart attacks. Fortunately, losing even a little weight can make a difference for your heart.

5. Petting Puppies is Good for You

Dog smiling

Science can’t say for sure that stress causes heart disease, but stress leads to the factors that can put you at risk for heart disease or make your health worse (such as high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers, to name a few). Whatever you can do to manage your stress is good, and doctors agree that having a pet, and even just stroking an animal, can help. In fact, one study showed that dog owners who’d had heart attacks or heart problems had better health outcomes than those who didn’t have pets.

6. There’s a Connection Between Your Teeth and Your Heart Health

Woman brushing her teeth

A good oral hygiene routine is important for your overall health and well-being, not to mention your confidence. Not brushing and flossing can lead to bacteria, inflammation, and plaque, which has been linked to heart attacks.

7. The Warning Signs of a Heart Attack.

Man Having a Heart Attack

Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, but the signs usually include:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden lightheadedness or dizziness

8. One Heart Attack Leads to Another

Woman Lying in Hospital Bed

Those who’ve had heart attacks are four times more likely to suffer a fatal cardiac event, compared to those who haven’t.

9. You Can Get Your Numbers Checked at No Cost

Doctors Reading a Case File

Getting your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol numbers checked are all considered essential health benefits and therefore, your medical plan will cover a trip to the doctor at no charge to you.

Healthy Aging: What’s Normal Versus What You Should Worry About