It is often a sad reality that as we age, the golden years turn out to be not as golden as we expected. When a senior experiences fatigue, depression, forgetfulness, and insomnia, it can be difficult to enjoy retirement.
Many older people associate these symptoms with the aging process and simply choose to live peacefully with these ailments, believing that they are the realities of aging. Others seek medical attention for these symptoms, who may also attribute these to aging, or worse, mistakenly diagnose the patient with clinical depression or dementia.
We all need to understand that aging without a medically identified disease should not automatically be associated with symptoms such as fatigue, forgetfulness, and insomnia. Before labeling an elderly patient as having depression, dementia, or as a chronic complainer, a physical examination is required.
The Basics About Thyroid Conditions
Thyroid disease can be a serious condition that greatly affects your overall well-being. There are two types of thyroid disease:
Hypothyroidism: Occurs when the thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone (TSH). It causes the body’s metabolism to slow, resulting in weight gain, fatigue, and an intolerance to cold. It is relatively common among those 60 and older. Around 1 in 4 patients living in nursing homes could have an undiagnosed hypothyroid disease.
Hyperthyroidism: This causes patients to produce too much thyroid hormone (TSH), which causes the body to increase all of its functions, leading to unusual symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, increase in appetite, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) and unintentional weight loss. Interestingly, the elderly are more likely to have heat intolerance, fatigue from normal tasks and activities, depression, and tremors.
Thyroid Disease Can Increase With Age
Thyroid disease increases with age and is more prevalent in women. It’s estimated that 20% of women over 60 have some form of thyroid disease. The symptoms of thyroid disease are dependent on the production of too much thyroid (TSH) hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism). Hypothyroidism is more common in the elderly, and symptoms may be non-specific, such as those mentioned above.
There are two other points regarding elderly patients and thyroid disease.
First, hypothyroidism is a risk factor for high cholesterol and heart disease. Since many elderly people may not have been screened or diagnosed with cholesterol problems or heart disease in many years, it is crucial to perform cholesterol checks on all elderly patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The reverse is also true. Elderly patients with elevated cholesterol levels should undergo thyroid testing to ensure that thyroid disease is not the causing factor to their high cholesterol levels.
Secondly, hyperthyroidism can cause osteoporosis, which is a common condition of the elderly.
Difficulty In Identifying Thyroid Issues in Seniors
Thyroid issues present differently depending on the person, which is why these problems can be difficult to diagnose. Some examples of people who might have a thyroid problem include:
- An elderly woman who feels a “flutter” in her chest while climbing a set of stairs
- An elderly woman who feels depressed and has developed an unusual hand tremor
- An elderly man with weakness in the legs
- An elderly man who suddenly lost 15 pounds, even though he keeps eating more and more
Each of these people may have thyroid disease, like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Since hyper and hypothyroid disease may present with symptoms of other illnesses, like diseases of the heart or bowel, they can be difficult to diagnose until thyroid function has been significantly impaired or is so active that it results in serious complications.
Thyroid Disease Can Be Masked As Mental Illness
In the United States, roughly one-quarter of the senior population suffers from some form of mental illness. It is estimated that 15% of patients over 60 who suffer mental illness can be attributed to their hyperthyroidism diagnosis. Due to many factors, people over 65 are much more likely to miss a diagnosis than people between 30 and 40.
How Do You Confirm and Treat Thyroid Disease?
What can you do to make sure your thyroid levels are in order? If you suspect that you have a thyroid disorder or have symptoms that remain unexplained, ask your doctor for a thyroid examination. This includes examining the thyroid gland in the neck and a simple blood test to assess TSH levels and T4 and T3 levels.
What Can I Do To Help Prevent Issues With the Thyroid?
Although thyroid disease cannot be avoided in some cases, a well-balanced diet and exercise can greatly reduce the occurrence or severity of the symptoms. Below is a list of some nutrient-rich foods that can help benefit the thyroid:
- Lean proteins (poultry, fish, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, for example) and beans
- Fruits that are rich in antioxidants such as tomatoes, peppers, and blueberries
- Foods that are high in fiber
- Healthy fats and Omega-3s
- Vitamin D (low Vitamin D can be an indication of thyroid issues.
- Selenium (can be found in brazil nuts, tuna, crab, sunflower seeds, and lobster)
- Vitamin B12 (found in sardines, dairy products, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast, liver, and salmon.)
What Should You Do If You’re Concerned About Thyroid Diseases?
Thankfully, thyroid conditions are usually easy to diagnose by a medical professional. After all, identifying thyroid conditions and treating them appropriately can help you enjoy these golden years. If you or a loved one is showing signs of a thyroid condition, it’s important to take your concerns to your healthcare provider. Usually, a simple blood test is all it takes to check and see if the thyroid gland is working properly. An iodine uptake test may also be used to identify if part or all of the gland is involved in the over or underproduction of thyroid hormone.
Contact Tribute Senior Living
Tribute Senior Living is focused on helping people. If you or a loved one are dealing with thyroid issues or have questions about dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, we are here to help keep you informed. Contact us via our website or by calling us at 972-978-3999.