Aging Well Partners
- Jul 18
- 10 min
Top Risk Factors for Seniors & Mitigation Strategies
By Tina Seever, RN, DPCS, BrightStar Care of Carlsbad
As individuals age, we become more susceptible to various risk factors that can impact our well-being. For seniors over 65, it’s crucial to be aware of these risk factors and take proactive measures to mitigate them. In this article, we will explore the highest risk factors for the health of seniors over 65 and provide recommendations for mitigating each factor. The information presented here is supported by reputable sources, including data from leading health organizations.
1. Falls and Accidents:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths and non-fatal injuries among older adults. The statistics are alarming, with one in four individuals aged 65 and above experiencing a fall each year. Moreover, falls are responsible for over 95% of hip fractures, which are among the most serious consequences of falls in the elderly.
Common causes of falls include…
• Your eyesight, hearing, and reflexes might not be as sharp as they were when you were younger.
• Age-related loss of muscle mass (known as sarcopenia), problems with balance and gait, and blood pressure that drops too much when you get up from lying down or sitting (called postural hypotension) are all risk factors for falling.
• Some medications can increase a person’s risk of falling because they cause side effects such as dizziness or confusion. The more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall.
• Conditions that cause rushed movement to the bathroom, such as incontinence, may also increase the chance of falling.
• Older adults with mild cognitive impairment or certain types of dementia are at higher risk of falling.
• Safety hazards in the home or community environment can also cause falls.
While falls can cause immediate physical injuries, it is important to recognize that serious, even life-threatening health complications can develop as a result of these initial injuries. Among these complications, various types of infections stand out as significant risks, as they can progress to sepsis and potentially lead to death.
Fall-related injuries often involve open wounds, such as lacerations or abrasions, which can become infected if not properly cleaned and treated. Bacterial contamination can lead to localized infections at the site of the wound, causing pain, redness, swelling, and potential complications if left untreated. Falls injuries often disrupt normal urinary function. These injuries can increase the risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can manifest as urinary frequency, pain or burning during urination, cloudy or bloody urine, and fever.
Undetected, infections like these can progress to more severe kidney infections or turn septic. Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads throughout the body. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition characterized by a systemic inflammatory response to infection. It can cause organ dysfunction, low blood pressure, and, if not treated promptly, can progress to septic shock, multiple organ failure, and death.
Mitigation: To mitigate fall risk, you can make your home safer by removing trip hazards, installing grab bars, and improving lighting. Regular exercise programs, including strength and balance training, can enhance stability. Home care professionals like BrightStar Care can conduct safety assessments, assist with mobility, and provide supervision to minimize the risk of falls.
2. Chronic Health Conditions:
Conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases become more prevalent with age, affecting a significant portion of the elderly population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition, and chronic diseases account for approximately 60% of all deaths worldwide, with the majority occurring among older adults. These conditions can significantly impact their quality of life and overall health.
Mitigation: It is crucial to manage these conditions through regular medical check-ups, medication adherence, and lifestyle modifications. Home healthcare services can provide essential support in managing chronic conditions by assisting with medication reminders, monitoring vital signs, and ensuring a safe and healthy environment.
3. Declining hygiene habits:
For seniors, declining hygiene habits can have more significant health implications that you might think. As individuals age, they may face challenges in maintaining their personal hygiene due to physical limitations, cognitive decline, or other factors. Poor hygiene can lead to an increased risk of infections, skin problems, and other health complications. Here are some examples of health issues they could experience:
• Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Insufficient hygiene practices, such as inadequate cleansing after using the bathroom, can increase the risk of UTIs. These infections can cause discomfort, frequent urination, and in severe cases, lead to kidney infections or septic shock.
• Skin infections: Poor hygiene, including infrequent bathing or improper cleansing, can contribute to skin infections such as cellulitis, folliculitis, or fungal infections. Bacteria or fungi can multiply on unwashed skin, leading to irritation, redness, itching, and in severe cases, systemic infections.
• Respiratory infections: Neglected personal hygiene, particularly when it comes to hand hygiene, can result in the transmission of respiratory pathogens. Failure to wash hands properly and regularly can lead to respiratory infections such as the common cold, influenza, or pneumonia.
• Wound infections: Improper wound care and inadequate hygiene practices can increase the risk of wound infections. Infections in open wounds can slow down the healing process, lead to complications, and even result in systemic infections if left untreated.
• Infestations: Lack of personal hygiene, such as infrequent bathing or failure to maintain clean living spaces, can increase the risk of infestations. Seniors may be prone to infestations of parasites such as lice, scabies, or bed bugs, which can cause discomfort, itching, and skin infections.
• Oral health issues: Inadequate oral hygiene, including infrequent brushing or flossing, can lead to dental problems such as cavities, gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis), and tooth loss. Poor oral health has also been linked to systemic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and diabetes complications.
Mitigation: When visiting a loved one, pay attention to their personal care and look for signs they may be letting their hygiene slip. It is crucial for family caregivers, healthcare professionals, and support systems to provide assistance and promote education on proper hygiene practices to mitigate these risks and improve the overall health and quality of life for aging seniors.
4. Poor Nutrition:
Malnutrition and undernutrition are common among older adults and can lead to a variety of health complications. Poor nutrition among seniors can lead to a variety of health issues and complications. Here are some examples of health problems that can result from inadequate nutrition:
• Malnutrition: Insufficient intake of essential nutrients can result in malnutrition, which can lead to weight loss, muscle wasting, fatigue, weakened immune system, and increased vulnerability to infections. Malnutrition can also impair wound healing and increase the risk of complications during illness or surgery.
• Weak immune system: Poor nutrition can weaken the immune system, making seniors more susceptible to infections and illnesses. A compromised immune system can result in frequent infections, prolonged recovery times, and increased hospitalization rates.
• Osteoporosis: Inadequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients can contribute to the development of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakened bones. Seniors with osteoporosis are at a higher risk of fractures, particularly in the hips, spine, and wrists.
• Cognitive decline: Nutritional deficiencies, particularly deficiencies in vitamins B12, C, D, and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. Poor nutrition may accelerate cognitive impairment and contribute to the progression of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
• Anemia: Inadequate intake of iron, vitamin B12, and folate can lead to anemia, a condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Anemia can result in fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive function.
• Cardiovascular disease: Unhealthy eating habits, such as excessive intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium, along with inadequate consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
• Digestive issues: Poor nutrition can contribute to digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Insufficient fiber intake and dehydration can lead to digestive system issues that affect overall well-being and quality of life.
• Muscle weakness: Inadequate protein intake can lead to muscle wasting and weakness, increasing the risk of falls, mobility limitations, and frailty in older adults. Muscle loss can further exacerbate age-related declines in strength and physical function.
• Vision problems: Certain nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining good eye health. Poor nutrition can contribute to vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts, which can affect visual acuity and quality of life.
• Oral health issues: Inadequate nutrition, particularly a lack of key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C, can lead to oral health problems. These include tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss, impacting overall oral health and quality of life.
Mitigation: Seniors should consume a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Home care professionals can assist with meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation, ensuring seniors receive adequate nutrition and promoting their overall health.
When visiting a senior, family members can look for signs that may indicate poor nutrition. These signs can provide valuable insights into a senior’s dietary habits and overall nutritional status. Here are some common signs of poor nutrition to watch for: significant and unintentional weight loss, clothes that appear looser, fatigue and weakness, loss of muscle mass, particularly in the arms, legs, or overall body, changes in skin health, dental problems, brittle or thinning hair, hair loss, or brittle, ridged, or spoon-shaped nails, cognitive decline, memory problems, confusion, or difficulties with concentration, frequent infections with longer recovery times, changes in mood or behavior, and lack of interest in food.
It’s important to note that these signs may not solely be indicative of poor nutrition and could be caused by other factors as well. If you observe any of these signs, consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to assess their nutritional status and develop an appropriate plan for addressing any concerns.
5. Cognitive Decline:
Age-related cognitive decline, including conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, pose significant health risks for seniors, as well as their caregivers. Here are some of the health risks associated with these conditions:
• Functional impairment: Cognitive decline and dementia can lead to difficulties in performing daily activities and self-care tasks. As the conditions progress, individuals may struggle with tasks such as dressing, bathing, eating, and medication management, increasing their dependence on caregivers and potentially compromising their overall well-being.
• Increased risk of falls and injuries: Cognitive decline can affect balance, coordination, and spatial awareness, making seniors more prone to falls. Falls can result in fractures, head injuries, and other serious injuries, leading to hospitalization and reduced mobility.
• Safety concerns: Individuals with cognitive decline or dementia may have difficulties recognizing and avoiding potential hazards in their environment. They may forget to turn off appliances, leave the stove on, or wander away from home, increasing the risk of accidents, fires, or getting lost.
• Nutritional deficiencies: Individuals with cognitive decline or dementia may have difficulty planning, preparing, and consuming meals. They may simply forget to eat, make poor food choices, or unknowingly consume expired or unsafe foods.
• Medication management challenges: Cognitive decline can impair a person’s ability to manage their medications correctly. Common medication errors include missed doses, incorrect dosages, overdoses, and adverse drug interactions.
• Behavioral and psychological symptoms: Dementia can be accompanied by behavioral and psychological issues including agitation, aggression, anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. These symptoms can significantly impact a person’s mental safety, well-being, quality of life, and social interactions.
• Caregiver burden: Caring for a loved one with cognitive decline or dementia can place substantial physical, emotional, and financial burdens on family members or caregivers. The demands of providing care and managing the associated challenges can lead to stress, exhaustion, and increased health risks for the caregivers themselves.
Mitigation: It is important for individuals with age-related cognitive decline or dementia to receive appropriate medical care, support, and interventions to manage their condition effectively. Early diagnosis, personalized care plans, and access to support services can help mitigate the health risks and enhance the quality of life for both individuals and their caregivers. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, maintaining social connections, and following a brain-healthy diet can help slow cognitive decline. Home care providers can offer companionship, cognitive stimulation, exercise, and personalized care plans to support seniors with cognitive challenges.
6. Social Isolation:
Loneliness and social isolation can increase a variety of health risks and have detrimental effects on their overall well-being. Multiple studies have even linked social isolation and loneliness to higher mortality rates among seniors. Here are some of the health risks associated with social isolation:
• Mental health issues: Social isolation is strongly linked to increased risks of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. The lack of social connections and meaningful interactions can lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness, and a decline in overall mental well-being.
• Cognitive decline: Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. The lack of social stimulation and engagement can contribute to accelerated cognitive deterioration and impairments in memory, attention, and other cognitive functions.
• Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases: Social isolation has been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. The chronic stress and lack of social support associated with social isolation can negatively impact cardiovascular health.
• Weakened immune system: Isolation and loneliness have been shown to affect the immune system negatively. Seniors who experience social isolation may have weakened immune responses, making them more vulnerable to infections and experiencing slower recovery times.
• Poorer physical health outcomes: Socially isolated seniors are at a higher risk of experiencing poorer overall physical health outcomes. They may have higher rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The lack of social support can also lead to decreased engagement in healthy behaviors, such as exercise and preventive healthcare practices.
• Poor quality of life: Social isolation can significantly reduce the quality of life for seniors. The lack of social interactions, companionship, and meaningful relationships can lead to feelings of emptiness, decreased life satisfaction, and a diminished sense of purpose.
Mitigation: Encouraging social connections through things like participation in community activities, connecting with family and friends, and engaging in hobbies can combat social isolation. Senior centers and adult day centers such as The Glenner Center (https://www.Glenner.org) offer a wide range of activities, workshops, hobbies, social events and more, to help seniors get out and engage. Home care services can provide companionship, transportation to social events, and facilitate social interactions.
7. Medication Mismanagement:
Seniors often take multiple medications, leading to potential medication errors and adverse effects. They often need help staying of it all… ensuring they’re taking the right medications at the right times in the right doses.
Mitigation: Help them organize medications, use pill organizers, and maintain a written medication schedule. Some people buy a small dry erase marker board to keep their medication schedule front and center. There are also a variety of products on the market with features like alarms to remind when it’s time to take medications and locked/controlled medication dispensing to avoid taking them too soon.
When visiting seniors, look for signs of medication errors by checking pill boxes and bottles, and talk to your loved one to ensure they have a firm grasp on their mediations and proper usage. Home care providers can assist with medication reminders, supervision and medication management too. They can be the “eyes and ears” for family who are not in the senior’s home on a daily basis.
8. Inadequate Physical Activity:
Lack of physical activity contributes to the decline of muscle mass, strength, and overall physical function in seniors, and it can lead to muscle weakness, reduced mobility, and increased risk of chronic diseases.
Mitigation: Encourage regular exercise tailored to seniors’ abilities and preferences, such as walking, yoga, or swimming. In-home physical therapy can help recover strength, flexibility and balance. Some fitness centers offer specialized exercise programs for people with neurological diseases like Parkinson’s. Examples include Rock Steady Boxing (https://rocksteadyboxing.org) and RxBallroom Dance (www.rxballroomdance.com). Home care providers can support seniors in engaging in physical activities, offering supervision and assistance, as well as designing personalized exercise programs.
The health and well-being of seniors over 65 depends on proactively identifying and addressing the age-related risk factors they face. Home care services can play a vital role in mitigating these risk factors, offering personalized support, companionship, and professional assistance. For more information, visit https://www.brightstarcare.com/carlsbad.
National Institute on Aging. (2021). Chronic Conditions.
Alzheimer’s Association. (2021). Tips for Better Brain Health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Home Falls.
National Institute on Aging. (2022). Nutrition and Aging: Eating Well as You Get Older.
National Institute on Aging. (2022). Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Health.
National Institute on Aging. (2022). Medicines: Use Them Safely.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Physical Activity for Older Adults.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol and Aging.
National Council on Aging. (2021). Financial Security.
National Institute on Aging. (2022). Preventive Health Care.