Most prevalent chronic conditions in American seniors
In some ways, life becomes easier as people age—post-retirement is called the “golden years” for a reason, after all. But one thing many stop taking for granted is health. Research from the National Council on Aging shows that the top concerns among older adults are maintaining physical health, fighting memory loss, and prioritizing mental health. Staying fit and healthy is important throughout life, but especially when aging. Many chronic conditions are more likely to strike later in life, whether because of genetics, environments, or the realities of getting older.
Why is this important? The elderly population is growing, with about 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day. The good news is that even if certain chronic conditions are inevitable among seniors, there are often ways to treat and manage them to maintain a high quality of life.
What chronic issues are most common? This ranking of the top conditions for those aged 65 and older is based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which looked at enrollment claims for those in the fee-for-service program. Stacker has you covered with information on each health issue, symptoms, treatments, and resources especially for older patients.
#19. Autism spectrum disorders
National prevalence among seniors: 0% (Men: 0%, Women: 0%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: N/A
As many know, the autism spectrum includes a wide range of symptoms and severity. Some commonalities include difficulty communicating and interacting socially, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors. It can be difficult to diagnose ASD among the elderly because symptoms may appear to overlap with other conditions. Still, though the first symptoms of ASD typically appear in infants, it’s a lifelong disorder and can go undiagnosed until later in life. Because it’s difficult for many seniors to find the motivation to leave the house and be social—regardless of disorders, it’s imperative for those on the spectrum to find ways to manage their symptoms through medication and/or therapy. Assistive technology can also help with tasks around the home, managing prescriptions, and more.
Note: Although ASD is prevalent enough to be included in this dataset, the overall prevalence of autism nationwide and in each state is either lower than 0.1% or cannot be calculated due to insufficient data.
National prevalence among seniors: 0.1% (Men: 0.2%, Women: 0%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (0.9%), California (0.2%), New York (0.2%)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system by destroying the white blood cells that are key for immune health and, if untreated, leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Though an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was once considered a death sentence, millions live with HIV today, managing their health through medications that lower the amount of the virus in the body and improve immune responses. It’s important to begin treating HIV/AIDS as soon as possible after diagnosis—without treatment, AIDS can be a gateway for serious opportunistic diseases, such as cancers, fungal infections, and tuberculosis. Because HIV can advance quickly in older patients, they should be regularly screened by their doctor for health changes.
#17. Hepatitis (chronic viral B & C)
National prevalence among seniors: 0.4% (Men: 0.5%, Women: 0.3%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (1.6%), California (0.9%), New York (0.7%)
Though 72,000 Americans develop viral hepatitis each year, the disease can progress to a lifelong condition, which can lead to serious liver damage, liver cancer, and even death. Vaccines are available for prevention. Adults with chronic conditions should visit their doctor several times a year to have their condition monitored and may be prescribed immune modulator or antiviral drugs. For those with hepatitis C, a two- to three-month course of anti-retroviral medications can often cure the disease entirely.
#16. Schizophrenia/other psychotic disorders
National prevalence among seniors: 2.5% (Men: 2.1%, Women: 2.8%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (3.6%), Louisiana (3.4%), West Virginia (3.4%)
In Hollywood films, schizophrenia is associated with hallucinations and delusions, but this chronic disorder includes a wide spectrum of behavior and symptoms, from trouble focusing to reduced feelings of pleasure. While most people experience the onset of schizophrenia in their early 20s, about a quarter of patients experience it during middle age. Antipsychotic medication, psychosocial therapy, and specialized coordinated care might be appropriate depending on the individual, though antipsychotic medications are usually used in a lower dose for seniors because of their physical side effects. Often, elderly patients with schizophrenia may find that their mental functioning improves or that their schizophrenia goes into remission, though the reasons why this happens are not well understood.
National prevalence among seniors: 4.2% (Men: 4.2%, Women: 4.2%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (5.3%), Delaware (5.2%), Louisiana (5.1%)
The likelihood of suffering from a stroke doubles every 10 years starting at age 55. What causes a stroke? Interrupted or reduced blood flow to the brain, caused by a blocked artery, a burst blood vessel, or another issue that deprives tissue of oxygen and kills brain cells. Symptoms come on fast and the tell-tale signs include trouble speaking, paralysis on one side of the body, blurry vision, headache, vomiting, and trouble walking. Those experiencing symptoms of stroke need to call 911 immediately—any delay could lead to serious brain damage or death. Health management after a stroke may include taking prevention medication and improving their overall health. Support groups also welcome those experiencing lasting effects.
National prevalence among seniors: 6.7% (Men: 1.5%, Women: 10.9%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Puerto Rico (10.9%), Hawaii (9.6%), Florida (8.7%)
Osteoporosis is a bone-density disease that causes bones to become weak and porous; in severe cases, something as minor as a sneeze or bumping into furniture can cause a break. For many, osteoporosis medications paired with calcium, vitamin D, low-impact exercises, and a well-balanced diet can help manage the disease. The National Osteoporosis Foundation facilitates support and education groups throughout the U.S.
National prevalence among seniors: 7.6% (Men: 6.4%, Women: 8.6%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (9.5%), West Virginia (9.5%), Rhode Island (9.5%)
Though the stereotypical asthmatic is a kid struggling through gym class with an inhaler in hand, this condition is common among people of all ages. Asthma causes swollen airways, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and more. Though it can’t be cured, asthma can be managed by avoiding triggers such as pollen or mold, taking asthma medication, and using inhalers when necessary. Asthma can develop at any point in life. Because seniors with asthma are more likely to develop respiratory failure during asthma attacks, they should regularly visit their doctor to discuss their plan during such an attack and ensure that the drugs they’re taking for other conditions aren’t worsening their condition.
National prevalence among seniors: 8.9% (Men: 10.2%, Women: 7.9%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Florida (10.5%), Rhode Island (10.4%), New Jersey (10.3%)
Cancer, a disease caused by abnormal cells multiplying out of control, can begin anywhere in the body. There are many types of cancer and each has different treatment options—from surgery and chemotherapy to radiation therapy—depending on the stage that the cancer is in, the location of the cancer, and sizes of any tumors. Cancer has become more prevalent as people live longer—more than 60% of new cancer diagnoses are among those over the age of 65. Fortunately, treatments are also better than ever, especially for elderly patients. There are support groups, treatment centers, and specialized oncology clinics available throughout the country.
#11. Atrial fibrillation
National prevalence among seniors: 9.3% (Men: 10.5%, Women: 8.4%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Connecticut (12%), Massachusetts (11.2%), Pennsylvania (10.9%)
Atrial fibrillation, an irregular and typically rapid heart rate, can cause heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues. Those experiencing symptoms, including heart palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and chest pain, should see their physician. Depending on the severity and the patient’s condition, doctors may administer an electric shock to “reset” the heart’s rhythm, perform surgery, or prescribe specialized medications.
#10. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
National prevalence among seniors: 11.2% (Men: 11.4%, Women: 11%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (16.3%), West Virginia (16%), Oklahoma (13.8%)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease, which results in breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and increased mucus production. The primary cause is long-term smoking, especially among those with asthma. Doctors say the first path to treatment is to quit smoking. From there, there are myriad treatments, from oxygen therapy and steroids to medication and inhalers, to surgery for severe cases. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is largely underdiagnosed in seniors, so those with symptoms should speak with their doctors about getting tested.2018 All rights reserved.