Healthy aging: 3 common illnesses older Canadians should know about

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Health and Wellness

Our golden years can be the best time of our lives, but your body may need a little more care than it did in years past. Regardless of how young you may feel at heart, there are illnesses that are more common at an older age.

Here are three conditions to be aware of that can significantly affect older adults:

  1. Shingles
    Herpes Zoster, typically referred to as shingles, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox in the past, the virus remains dormant in your body and can reactivate later in life as shingles. Shingles often shows up as a painful rash or blisters that can last for weeks and can lead to nerve pain lasting for months or even years. It’s estimated that one in three Canadians will get shingles in their lifetime, and with ninety per cent of adults over the age of 50 thought to have had chickenpox, shingles is a concern for older Canadians.

    Treatment may have limited impact, but shingles can be prevented. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec (CIQ) recommend vaccination for people aged 50 and over to help prevent shingles. The CIQ also recommends vaccination for people aged 18 years and older who are immunocompromised.

  1. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
    RSV is a common and highly contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. Despite commonly being associated with infants and young children, adults aged 60 and older are also at increased risk for serious infection from RSV.

    The natural decline in immune function as we age makes the older-adult crowd more vulnerable to infections and health complications, including RSV. Additionally, immunity against RSV is short-lived, so you can catch it again even if you’ve already had it. Getting vaccinated, washing your hands frequently, disinfecting surfaces around you, and avoiding time spent close to anyone who is ill are a few steps to help avoid contracting the virus.

  1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    COPD is a lung disease that includes chronic bronchitis or emphysema. It causes a narrowing of the airways and can progress slowly over a number of years. Its typically diagnosed in those over age 40, and many people may not realize they have the condition. Symptoms can include a cough lasting longer than three months, wheezing or whistling when breathing, long-lasting colds and shortness of breath during everyday activities. Feeling short of breath is not a normal sign of aging, and those experiencing it should seek medical guidance. Those with the disease are also at higher risk of developing heart conditions, diabetes and low bone density. The good news is COPD is manageable with treatment.

There are all sorts of ways to enjoy life well into our golden years, but it can be helpful to know what you might be up against.

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