The goals of prevention in an older adult usually depend on the person's health, level of function, and risk profile. For example, a healthy, independent person with no serious disorders may focus mainly on preventing disorders from developing. A person with several mild chronic disorders who remains independent may focus more on preventing or slowing decline in function and avoiding frailty than on preventing new disorders. A frail person with several advanced chronic diseases who has become mostly dependent on others may focus mainly on preventing accidents and complications that could cause further loss of independence or death.
Exercise, including aerobic exercise, is still important. Weight lifting helps protect against muscle weakness, age-related loss of muscle tissue, and osteoporosis by strengthening muscles and increasing bone density. Aerobic exercise increases endurance and may slightly lower the risk of some heart and blood vessel disorders. In older adults, dancing and tai chi may be enjoyable forms of exercise and may have additional benefits, such as enhancing balance and preventing falls.
Stopping smoking is helpful even in older adults. It can help improve endurance at any age, decrease symptoms of certain disorders (such as angina and claudication), and may decrease risks of certain disorders developing (such as heart attacks).
Alcohol is metabolized differently in older adults. Older adults who drink alcohol need to be aware that more than one drink per day may increase their risk of injuries and other health problems.
Drugs and Vaccines:
Understanding drug therapy is particularly important for older adults because they are more susceptible to adverse drug effects (see Aging and Drugs). Factors that can increase susceptibility include age-related differences in drug metabolism and use of many drugs (which can lead to drug interactions). A primary care doctor and pharmacist can provide information on all prescription and nonprescription drugs. Knowing the brand and generic name of all drugs taken; each drug's purpose; the length of time each drug is to be taken; and what activities, foods, drinks, and other drugs are to be avoided while taking a drug can help older adults avoid problems. Older adults should bring all of their drugs, both prescription and nonprescription, to their doctor appointments so that they can be reviewed with their doctor.
Vaccines for influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia (a bacterial lung infection), and the combination of pertussis and tetanus are important for older adults because of their increased susceptibility to pneumonia and tetanus.
Last full review/revision September 2007 by James T. Pacala, MD, MS