How Does Thyroid Function Change with Age?
While it may not be as well-known or as frequently discussed as the lungs, the heart or the stomach, the thyroid gland actually plays a critical role in maintaining overall health. The gland produces hormones essential to the proper and healthy functioning of vital organs, including the kidneys, liver, brain and heart. The thyroid gland also plays a role in metabolism, which is the process the body uses to convert food to energy.
As you age, your risk of developing a thyroid disorder increases. Thyroid problems can be hereditary and they also become more common with age. Thyroid issues are very common in people over the age of 65 and are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms present differently than in younger patients.
For seniors, and those providing care for seniors, it is helpful to understand what thyroid conditions may come up, what the symptoms are and how to treat to these conditions.
Understanding Thyroid Conditions
The two most common thyroid conditions occur when the thyroid gland is either over-performing or under-performing. These conditions are:
Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain crucial hormones. For seniors, hypothyroidism often does not cause noticeable symptoms in the beginning. If this condition is not treated, it will worsen and the symptoms will become more noticeable and severe. Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can cause difficulty breathing and swallowing. It can also increase the risk of heart disease and heart failure.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Low energy levels or slow thinking
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Muscle weakness, tenderness, aches or stiffness
- Pain or swelling in the joints
- Dry skin
- Brittleness in hair and fingernails
- Erectile dysfunction
Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine; thyroxine plays a vital role in digestion, heart and muscle functioning. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can differ widely, depending on the age of the patient. For young adults, hyperthyroidism typically presents with weight loss and hyperactivity. For seniors, more common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Heart failure
- Muscle weakness and loss of muscle
- Frequent bowel movements
- Difficulty tolerating heart and increased sweating
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Graves’ ophthalmopathy, or a bulging of the eyes
- Erectile dysfunction
With the onset of any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a trusted medical professional. For seniors living in an assisted living community, like Country Gardens Assisted Living, the on-site care team partners closely with your primary care physician to monitor any changes in health condition. At Country Gardens, every resident receives an individualized care plan. This allows care providers to notice quickly when conditions change or new symptoms appear.
Thyroid Function and Aging
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism in older patients are especially difficult to diagnose because they often masquerade as heart or nervous system disorders. Seniors with either condition can demonstrate signs of confusion, heart failure, depression, changes in bowel habits and an increase in falls. These same symptoms are very common in many conditions associated with aging, which can mask the underlying issue.
Under medical supervision, there are medications that can manage both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. However, many studies show that lifestyle changes can also have a positive impact on both conditions. It is encouraged for older patients with low thyroid function to speak with their medical care team about starting an exercise program and making positive lifestyle changes. At The Village at Mission, there are many accommodations that make it easy for residents to make healthy choices and to stay fit. There are nutritious, delicious dining options, cooked fresh every day, as well as a fitness center with instructor-led sessions equipped to serve all levels of ability.
Planning for a Healthy Future
The amenities and care programs at The Village at Mission, Country Gardens and all Tutera Senior Living assisted living communities are designed to support seniors while offering opportunities for engagement and connection. Residents have the medical, nutritional and emotional resources to live healthy, active lives, filled with the activities and hobbies they most enjoy.
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The Atriums Senior Living Community
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Country Gardens Assisted Living Community
Lamar Court Assisted Living Community
The Lodge at Manito Assisted Living & Memory Care Community
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Oakley Courts Assisted Living & Memory Care Community
Rose Estates Assisted Living Community
St. Paul's Senior Community
Tiffany Springs Senior Living Community
The Village at Mission Senior Living Community
Wesley Court Assisted Living Community