Some disorders occur almost exclusively in older people. (See also Overview of Aging Overview of Aging Aging is a gradual, continuous process of natural change that begins in early adulthood. During early middle age, many bodily functions begin to gradually decline. People do not become old or... read more .) They are sometimes called geriatrics syndromes (geriatrics refers to the medical care of older people).
Other disorders affect people of all ages but may cause different symptoms or complications in older people. The following are some examples:
Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism Hypothyroidism Hypothyroidism is underactivity of the thyroid gland that leads to inadequate production of thyroid hormones and a slowing of vital body functions. Facial expressions become dull, the voice... read more ): Usually, younger people gain weight and feel sluggish. In older people, the first or main symptom may be confusion.
Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism is overactivity of the thyroid gland that leads to high levels of thyroid hormones and speeding up of vital body functions. Graves disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism... read more ): Usually, younger people become agitated and lose weight. In contrast, older people may become sleepy, withdrawn, depressed, and confused.
Depression Depression Depression is a feeling of sadness and/or a decreased interest or pleasure in activities that becomes a disorder when it is intense enough to interfere with functioning. It may follow a recent... read more : Usually, younger people become tearful, withdrawn, and noticeably unhappy. Sometimes older people do not seem unhappy. Instead, they become confused, forgetful, and listless, lose interest in their usual activities, or seem lonely.
Heart attack Acute Coronary Syndromes (Heart Attack; Myocardial Infarction; Unstable Angina) Acute coronary syndromes result from a sudden blockage in a coronary artery. This blockage causes unstable angina or a heart attack (myocardial infarction), depending on the location and amount... read more : Usually, younger people have chest pain. Older people may not have chest pain but may have difficulty breathing or abdominal pain. They may sweat profusely, suddenly feel tired, pass out, or become confused.
Abdominal perforation Perforation of the Digestive Tract Any of the hollow digestive organs may become perforated (punctured), which causes a release of intestinal contents and can lead to sepsis (a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream) and... read more : An organ in the digestive tract, such as the stomach or intestine, occasionally tears (perforates), causing widespread serious infection in the abdominal cavity. Usually, younger people have severe abdominal pain and fever, and the abdomen feels tight. In contrast, older people may have none of these symptoms. Instead, they may become confused or feel very weak.
The confusion that these disorders cause in older people is often mistaken for dementia Dementia Dementia is a slow, progressive decline in mental function including memory, thinking, judgment, and the ability to learn. Typically, symptoms include memory loss, problems using language and... read more .
Older people often have more than one disorder at a time. Each disorder may affect the other. For example, depression may make dementia worse, and an infection may make diabetes Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in which the body does not produce enough or respond normally to insulin, causing blood sugar (glucose) levels to be abnormally high. Symptoms of diabetes may... read more worse.
However, disorders no longer have the same devastating or incapacitating effects that they once had in older people. Disorders that were once likely to result in death for older people, such as heart attacks Acute Coronary Syndromes (Heart Attack; Myocardial Infarction; Unstable Angina) Acute coronary syndromes result from a sudden blockage in a coronary artery. This blockage causes unstable angina or a heart attack (myocardial infarction), depending on the location and amount... read more , hip fractures Hip Fractures Hip fractures may occur in the round upper end (head) of the thighbone, in the narrow part of the thighbone just below the head (neck), or in the bumps in the broader area just below the neck... read more , and pneumonia Overview of Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection of the small air sacs of the lungs (alveoli) and the tissues around them. Pneumonia is one of the most common causes of death worldwide. The most common symptom of... read more , can often be treated and controlled. With treatment, many people with chronic disorders, such as diabetes Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in which the body does not produce enough or respond normally to insulin, causing blood sugar (glucose) levels to be abnormally high. Symptoms of diabetes may... read more , kidney disorders, and coronary artery disease Overview of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) Coronary artery disease is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart muscle is partially or completely blocked. The heart muscle needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. The coronary... read more , can remain functional, active, and independent.