Do Sickness and Disability come with Old age? By Melissa Callens


The cohort of older adults receives many stereotypes of a wide variety.  Many of these common stereotypes are not all necessarily true but the stereotype of “sickness and disability come with old age” appears to be true in many ways with older adults although some studies show that some effects can be prevented or reduced, overall it appears that many sicknesses and disabilities do in fact “come with old age”.  Many studies show that many aspects of health tend to decline as people age including hearing loss, decline of cognitive function, and weakened immune system.  These disabilities and sicknesses also tend to lead to many other medical impairments that are seen as common in older adults including mobility loss, falling and many others.

Hearing loss affects over half of older adults and results in many infortunes including loneliness, balancing issues resulting in falls, depression, and other medical impairments effecting the overall quality of life of older adults (Lambert, et al. 2017).  In a study done by Justin Lambert and colleagues (2017) hearing loss in older adults was tested by using a sample of older adults who were above the age of 65 with self-reported hearing loss and assigning them to either intervention of physical activity, health education, socialization or to a control group.  This study was done to determine if it was possible to reduce the many effects of hearing loss in older adults since it effects many worldwide.  The older adults involved in this study participated in their assigned group two times a week for 10 weeks (Lambert, et al. 2017).  Lambert and colleagues (2017) found success in overall quality of life in this study although they cannot reduce the hearing loss they found that the physical activity improved the balance of older adults, and the health education and socialization groups improved overall mood of the participants.  Hearing loss itself is a disability but many times it leads to other disabilities and sicknesses including depression and falling which can lead to impaired mobility and other medical complications.  This stereotype of sickness and disability coming with old age is true for aspects that cannot be controlled like hearing loss which is more prevalent in older adults, but there are preventions as shown in this study that can prevent further medical disabilities including depression, balance problems resulting in falls, and many others.  Although there are these preventions that may help many older adults, cognitive function also appears to decrease with age without preventions being able to reduce these disability issues.

Many older adults experience pain as they age and Eliana Scemes and colleagues (2017) conclude that there is an association with this reported pain that older adults experience and their cognitive function.  Scemes and colleagues (2017) studied 1,527 adults above the age of 70 and split the participants into groups by using the Short Form 36 to measure pain from low intensities to high intensities based on the amount of bodily pain that they have experienced in the past month and then measured two aspects of their cognitive functions.  In result, those with higher intensity pain levels had lower scores for all aspects of cognitive function than those with lower intensity pain levels had higher scores for all aspects of cognitive function and only 33% of the participants were classified into the lower intensity pain level groups (Scemes, et. al. 2017).  Due to the fact that over two thirds of individuals over the age of 65 years old report pain which was also closely represented in this study shows that with age comes more pain which is supportive of the stereotype at hand.  It also supports the stereotype because with this pain many experience lower cognitive function.  This disability many times leads to older adults being in nursing homes which for many leads to depression and social isolation.  Not only is loss of cognitive function a disability of many older adults but this many times leads to other disabilities.

According to Joe Verghese and colleagues (2017), cognitive impairment is a major contributor to falls in older adults.  Although it is typical to associate falling with older adults because falling is caused by many diseases more common in older adults including dementia Verghese and colleagues (2017) examined and followed up over a 50-month period of 166 high-functioning older adults already enrolled in a prospective ageing study to assess incident falls.  Over this 50-month period 116 falls occurred from the 166 older adults and it was concluded that cognitive impairment was the main contributor to falling in these high-functioning older adults (Verghese, et. al. 2017).  These authors believe this is due to gait on the prefrontal cortex that effects cognitive impairment that has no underlying cause besides the fact that it increases with age but concluded that further studies need to be done for further information.  This study supports the stereotype due to there being an obvious gait on the prefrontal cortex that increases simply with age. Disability becoming more prevalent with age is supported in the fact that many falls occur in older adults which many times results in broken bones and decreasing mobility. This also leads to many older adults being put into nursing homes to be taken care of and along with this sometimes includes depression and isolation and other medical impairments that may interfere with the life quality in older adults.  Not only are their physical impairments that appear to come with age but the immune system also appears to weaken in older adults.

Along with hearing loss and loss of cognitive ability, immune systems typically weaken with age.  There is an increased risk of infection and disease in older adults due to ageing having an effect on both the innate and adaptive immune system (Byng-Maddick & Noursadeghi, 2016). Older adults also suffer greater morbidity and mortality from infections and diseases compared to younger adults which is why Byng-Maddick and Noursadeghi (2016) studied the effects on older adults with infections specifically Tuberculosis.  Not only did they find that older adults are more at risk for these infections and diseases but also that these infections affect older adults differently than in younger people and many times the older adults do not show the typical symptoms of the illness resulting in misdiagnoses or left being untreated and many times resulting in death (Byng-Maddick & Noursadeghi, 2016).  Byng-Maddick and Noursadeghi (2016) found that in many cases of Tuberculosis in older adults their symptoms mimic age-related illnesses including fatigue, cognitive impairment, weight loss, joint pain and many other typical symptoms of aging and are commonly overlooked by doctors resulting in worse outcomes for the older adults.  The stereotype of sickness and disorders coming with old age is supported by the fact that older adults have a weakened immune system and are more susceptible to infection and disease but due to typically being misdiagnosed due to the infection or disease affecting older adults differently than younger people and having many common symptoms of old age interfering with being properly diagnosed it is hard to say if this stereotype is true or if current medical technology is behind with properly diagnosing older adults.  If we did not assume that symptoms were due to age related issues, there is a possibility that older adults would be properly diagnosed and hopefully this would lower the higher rates of morbidity and mortality.

Although studies have found that physical exercise and socializing can help effects of disabilities in older adults it appears that overall the stereotype of sickness and disability comes with old age seems to be true. Hearing loss, cognitive impairment, and a weakened immune system all resulting in other medical impairments are not the only sickness’ and disabilities that seem to be more prevalent in older adults.



Reference List

Byng-Maddick, R., & Noursadeghi, M. (2016). Does tuberculosis threaten our ageing        populations?. BMC Infectious Diseases, 161-5. doi:10.1186/s12879-016-1451-0

Lambert, J., Ghadry-Tavi, R., Knuff, K., Jutras, M., Siever, J., Mick, P., & … Jones, C. A. (2017). Targeting functional fitness, hearing and health-related quality of life in older adults with        hearing loss: Walk, Talk ‘n’ Listen, study protocol for a pilot randomized controlled trial.      Trials, 181-12. doi:10.1186/s13063-017-1792-z

Scemes, E., Zammit, A. R., Katz, M. J., Lipton, R. B., & Derby, C. A. (2017). Associations of       cognitive function and pain in older adults. International Journal Of Geriatric     Psychiatry, 32(1), 118-120. doi:10.1002/gps.4580

Verghese, J., Wang, C., Ayers, E., Izzetoglu, M., & Holtzer, R. (2017). Brain activation      in         high-functioning older adults and falls: Prospective cohort study. Neurology, 88(2), 191        197. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000003421













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