Common Chronic Health Conditions in Older Adults

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Older adult male hiking and smiling as he took proactive measures for chronic health conditions
March 11, 2024

It’s expected to encounter some light joint pain and back aches as we get older, but when do these nagging pains turn into something more serious? The truth is, as we get older, it becomes increasingly important to talk about chronic health conditions, as these conditions become more and more common among older adults. But, before we talk about them, we should know about them! This blog post will take a close look at some of the most common chronic health conditions that tend to rise as we get older and highlight the practical steps you can take to manage and prevent them, with the help of your primary care provider. 

Diseases and Chronic Conditions Associated with Aging

Our bodies go through a handful of changes as we age. Think about your teenage years and how many changes your body went through during this time—although the changes you experience in older age may not be as visible, dramatic, or positive, the body never truly stops changing. Your body is constantly evolving, whether for the better or worse. Unfortunately, as we get older, our bodies and their ability to function tend to start deteriorating. 

Over time, our cells slowly lose their ability to renew as quickly and efficiently as they once did when we were younger [1]. This leads to our bodily functions being performed at a slower rate and with more difficulty, which can cause physical pain and mental distress. For example, this decline can lead to decreased muscle mass and bone density, reduced cognitive function, and/or slower metabolism. 

In addition, our immune systems may become compromised as we age, making it easier to develop infections and illnesses and harder to fight them off if contracted [2]. This means that you may get sick more often, and for longer amounts of time, even though you are following the same steps you once did to get better. 

Chronic health conditions, which are as long-lasting and often incurable illnesses, tend to be more prevalent in older adults due to the variables previously mentioned. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 90% of adults aged 60 and older have at least one chronic condition [3]. What your body once may have been able to fight off with ease as a young adult, it may now have trouble recovering from. Factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental variables may exacerbate the development of these conditions and how likely one is to recover from them. 

This can be stressful and frustrating for older adults who are already concerned about their health and well-being. It can all feel uncontrollable, and these conditions can really put a damper on one’s outlook on life. Although these conditions certainly are scary to think about, we must think about them to understand how to prevent and manage them. Therefore, understanding what chronic conditions you are susceptible to can help empower us to make healthy decisions in managing and mitigating the onset of these illnesses. Let’s start the conversation now!

Cardiovascular Diseases[4]

Common cardiovascular conditions in older adults encompass a variety of disorders, including hypertension, coronary artery disease (CAD), and heart failure. 

Hypertension is often called the “silent killer” because it usually does not present noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Many people with hypertension don’t realize they have it until it is detected in a routine check-up, or unfortunately, when they experience a heart attack or stroke. Hypertension is characterized by persistently high blood pressure levels, which can put a strain on the heart and blood vessels over time. 

Coronary artery disease forms due to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which blocks blood flow to the heart. CAD increases the risk of heart attacks and angina and can manifest in several ways. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and dizziness. However, some people who develop CAD experience little to no symptoms, particularly in the early stages. 

Finally, heart failure occurs when the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body is significantly reduced. This can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and fluid retention. 

A handful of risk factors contribute to these conditions, including but not limited to old age, genetic predisposition, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and underlying medical conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol. Early detection of these diseases is key to managing them accordingly or preventing them altogether. 

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions[5]

Let’s talk about arthritis, which is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and comes in many forms. First, osteoarthritis, which is the most prevalent type, typically sneaks up on us as we age and occurs when the cartilage protecting our joints starts to wear down. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and tenderness, especially after periods of inactivity or overuse. Swelling around the joints is also common for many people with osteoarthritis. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when your body’s immune system wrongly attacks the joints. This can lead to inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Both of these types of arthritis can lead to a general inability to move with ease and complete daily activities. Even the most seemingly simple tasks, like opening a pickle jar, mowing the lawn, or walking up the stairs, can be difficult or even painful for someone with arthritis. But, with the right interventions, like lifestyle adjustments, medications, and/or physical therapy, arthritis can be kept under control. 


Another common chronic condition among older adults is diabetes. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is most commonly diagnosed in children and younger adults and occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in the need for insulin therapy to manage their blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults and older adults, and develops when your body becomes resistant to insulin or fails to produce enough insulin to have healthy blood sugar levels. Common symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and increased hunger. 

Obesity, lack of exercise, and poor diet are all factors that influence the development of type 2 diabetes. However, genetics can also play a large role. As people age, the likelihood of developing both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes rises, with Type 2 diabetes being more common in older adults due to changes in metabolism and age-related health conditions. With proper habits like exercise and healthy dieting, as well as management through medication and monitoring, diabetes can be handled. 

Respiratory Conditions[7]

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, as well as other respiratory issues, can negatively impact your lungs and airways, making breathing difficult. People with COPD and/or other respiratory disorders may experience shortness of breath, wheezing, chronic coughing, and the excessive production of mucus. They may experience these symptoms only when exercising at first, and then notice that they start to creep up throughout their day, even when sedentary. Although variables like air pollution, occupational hazards, genetic predisposition, and respiratory infections can lead to COPD, smoking cigarettes is the leading cause. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes, COPD and its symptoms can be improved so that older adults can maintain lung function. 

Neurological Conditions[8]

Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are neurodegenerative disorders that are common in older adults and have significant impacts on one’s ability to perform cognitive and motor functions, like remembering how to fry an egg or being able to wash the dishes. Alzheimer’s disease primarily impacts memory, thinking, and behaviors, which can lead to cognitive decline, confusion, and difficulty completing tasks that require critical thinking or memory. 

In contrast, Parkinson’s disease affects motor function and causes symptoms like tremors, rigidity, slowed movement, and postural instability. Both disorders can make it difficult to complete tasks and enjoy everyday life, which highlights the need for early detection and intervention for these diseases, as well as ongoing support from doctors and loved ones. 

Can Chronic Conditions Be Prevented?

Although some chronic conditions have genetic or unavoidable factors, many can be prevented or made less likely to occur by making healthy lifestyle choices[9]. For example, one should consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, as well as avoid processed foods high in sugars, to minimize the risk of developing a chronic condition. It may be hard to cut out unhealthy desserts and drink more green smoothies, but your body will thank you later!

Staying physically active and regularly exercising is also important for reducing this risk, and can be performed through aerobics, strength training, and flexibility exercises. These exercises don’t need to be strenuous, either. Simply going on a 15-minute walk every day, starting a yoga class, or doing tai chi in the park count as appropriate exercise. 

Reducing stress and prioritizing your mental health can also help minimize the risk of chronic conditions, which can be positively influenced by spending time socializing with others, learning new skills and hobbies, and using healthy coping skills to manage stress [10]. 

Last but not least, make regular check-ups in senior primary care and screening appointments with your doctor to prioritize early detection and intervention of possible conditions. Remember, they are the experts and are here to help!

Benefits of Chronic Condition Management for Older Adults

Chronic condition management encompasses gaining control and minimizing the impact of long-term health issues and how they affect your day-to-day life. This typically includes strategies like medication management, lifestyle changes, regular check-ins for symptoms and signs, and ongoing education and support. Older patients should partake in management, as it has a huge role in maintaining quality of life and preventing complications. Not to mention, it also influences independence and allows older adults to feel empowered in managing their conditions. 

Chronic Condition Management and Preventive Care at Greater Good

Look no further! Here at Greater Good Health, we provide preventative care and chronic pain management to help older adults live a fulfilling and independent lifestyle without letting their condition take control. Contact us today to learn more about senior healthcare, and schedule an appointment!