What Seniors Need to Know About Hypothyroidism
Many seniors associate feelings of fatigue, depression, and weakness with the normal aging process. Apart from a medical condition, however, such symptoms don’t have to be associated with growing older. In fact, they may be pointing to a common, but often undiagnosed condition known as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces fewer hormones than the body needs to maintain daily activities. It is more common in people over the age of 60 and can be difficult to detect since the reduction in hormone output usually occurs gradually over a process of years. The good news however, is that thyroid symptoms can be treated, restoring your elderly loved one’s quality of life.
Who is At Risk for Hypothyroidism?
About 20% of women over the age of 65 have some degree of hypothyroidism. The condition isn’t restricted to women, however. If you have an elderly loved one, his or her risk could be increased if the following risk factors are present:
- Over the age of 60
- Iodine deficiency
- Increased cholesterol levels
- History of radiation to chest/neck
- Thyroid surgery
- Autoimmune disorder
Hypothyroidism can also be associated with heart disease and osteoporosis. When these conditions are present, it may help to do a thyroid evaluation to discover whether thyroid malfunction could be a contributing factor.
Because older people, particularly women, are at increased risk for hypothyroidism, many doctors recommend an annual screening to test for abnormal hormone levels. This screening can help detect early incidence of the disease before symptoms have begun to appear.
What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
The symptoms of hypothyroidism vary depending on how far the disease has progressed. Early signs may include chronic fatigue, weakness, weight gain, and depression. Over time other symptoms may appear, including increased cold sensitivity, dry skin, brittle nails and hair, puffy cheeks, constipation, increased cholesterol levels, muscle aches, joint swelling, and a hoarse throat.
Hypothyroidism often goes untreated because many people associate these symptoms with the normal aging process. However, it is important to remember that aging itself does not cause severe fatigue, depression, or pain. These symptoms should always be taken seriously and checked out by a doctor in order to determine the underlying cause. Your doctor will do a blood test to check TSH levels and levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Abnormal levels of these hormones indicate that the thyroid is not functioning as it should.
How Can Hypothyroidism Be Treated?
Seniors who have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism will receive prescription medication designed to bring thyroid hormones back into balance. The medicine must be taken as prescribed in order to adequately address the problem. As your doctor determines the correct dosage, you or your loved one may experience increased appetite, shakiness, or insomnia. These symptoms indicate that the dose is too high. Contact your doctor to have your prescription altered. Certain over-the-counter supplements and medications may also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb thyroid medication. If you take iron supplements, antacids, or calcium supplements, tell your doctor so he or she can make sure your medication produces the desired benefits.
One problem some families may encounter is that elderly loved ones may have difficulty remembering to take their medication as prescribed. An in-home caregiver can help by preparing the medication and offering reminders when it’s time to take the prescribed dose. He or she can also make sure the prescription gets refilled as needed and can provide rides to the doctor for checkups.
If you or your elderly loved one have experienced any of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, call your doctor for an evaluation. Detecting the disease early can help bring hormone levels into check before quality of life suffers.
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