7 Dangerous Health Mistakes Many Seniors Make

7 Dangerous Health Mistakes Many Seniors Make

Are you making an effort to improve senior health? Perhaps you do everything that you know you should, such as keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, taking your medications as directed, and staying on top of chronic conditions. You always buckle your seat belt before you put the car in drive. You wear comfortable shoes when you take long walks with friends. You might have even chosen a medical alert bracelet, wristband, or watch for emergency protection, just in case.

But you could be making some big health mistakes without even realizing it. For instance, who would ever think that turning down an invitation to tea with a group of friends could shorten your life? Or that sprinkling salt on that juicy watermelon might lead you down a dangerous health path?

Here are some of the serious health mistakes that many seniors make.

1. Sprinkling on the salt.

High sodium is one of the key drivers of high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to other problems, such as heart attack or stroke. But if you’re reaching for the salt shaker at every meal, you’re not alone. The CDC says that 90% of Americans consume far too much salt. But when you start to restrict your sodium intake, you will see your blood pressure fall in a matter of weeks, which lowers your risk of cardiovascular problems.1

Here’s a pro tip: about 70% of all sodium consumption comes from restaurants or from heavily processed foods. When you go to a restaurant, look for low-sodium options, and choose your portions wisely. When at the grocery store, steer clear of the processed foods and instead opt for more whole grains, fresh fruits, and colorful vegetables.

2. Avoiding colorectal cancer screenings.

Let’s be perfectly honest: nobody actually wants to get this cancer screening. But the rates of colorectal cancer are going up, especially among those under the age of 55. That’s why the current age recommendation for screening has dropped to age 45.

No one knows for sure why those rates have gone up so dramatically – from 11% diagnosed in 1995 to 20% diagnosed in 2019 – but some reasons might include high sugar intake, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and cigarettes or alcohol.2

The good news is that if you are between the ages of 45 and 75, most insurances will cover the screening. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 guarantees this screening as part of preventative care for those who have health insurance and are over the age of 50, which means you can get the test without paying a single dime for it.

The screening can detect polyps in your colon and intestinal tract. Those polyps can be precancerous and are the main cause of colorectal cancer. However, these screenings can detect the polyps in a very early stage, when they are most treatable and might help you head off a cancer diagnosis.

3. Ignoring the clutter in your house.

Wait, what does ignoring clutter have to do with your health? Quite a lot, it turns out.

The CDC reports that more than one in four seniors suffers a fall every year, and if you do fall, your chances of falling again double. Add in the fact that falls cause the majority of traumatic brain injuries,  as well as hip fractures that could sideline you for months, and suddenly avoiding a fall becomes even more important.

One of the biggest reasons for falls is trip hazards around the home. An electrical cord that snakes through the hallway is a problem. So is the corner of an area rug that curls up just the tiniest bit, or a stack of books on the side table that you’ve been meaning to get to when you have the time. All of those things could lead to a sudden trip and fall, and that fall could lead to dire consequences.

So while it’s very important to have a personal alarm button at your fingertips just in case an accident happens, it’s vitally important to do what you can to avoid falling in the first place.

4. Not getting the right exercise.  

Maybe you get plenty of exercise by walking or doing things in the garden, and that’s important. But did you know that you need strength training, too? It becomes especially important as we get older and begin to lose muscle mass. In addition to that problem, osteoporosis becomes a serious problem. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 10 million seniors have osteoporosis right now and another 44 million have lost bone density. Half of all adults 50 or older are at higher risk of breaking a bone.3

That can happen during even a minor fall. That’s why a medical alert system with fall detection is a fantastic idea, as these senior life-saving alert systems can protect you from the aftermath of that fall. Rather than lying on the floor and waiting for help to arrive, a simple push of the panic button alarm summons help fast, 24/7.

But of course, avoiding a fracture in the first place is the goal. Weight-bearing exercise makes your bones stronger, which in turn helps you avoid the potentially dire consequences of a fall. You can get these exercises through using resistance bands, free weights, or through the use of your body weight during various exercises. Talk to a physical therapist or exercise trainer about the weight-bearing exercises that work best for you.

5. Not taking a daily aspirin.

If your doctor has recommended a low-dose aspirin, take it! It might seem as though an aspirin with such a low dose won’t actually do much for you, but studies have shown that it’s enough to lower your risk of heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, daily aspirin therapy might actually be the primary prevention option for those between the ages of 40 and 59 who are at high risk of a first-time heart attack or stroke.4

On the other hand, some recommendations deny that long-term idea, saying that there is no benefit to starting on a daily aspirin before the age of 60.

So which one is right?

That depends. If you have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, your doctor might prescribe aspirin at a younger age than if you are in tip-top shape. However, the only person who can really make that call is your physician, so consult them on whether you need that daily dose of prevention.

6. Getting dehydrated.

As you get older, your sense of thirst lessens quite a bit, and that can make it tough for you to remember to drink enough water throughout the day. Besides that, you might be on medications that mask your thirst or eliminate it altogether. Since seniors already carry a lower volume of water in the body, these problems with thirst add up to something potentially very dangerous.

How dangerous? Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It can also lead to seizures, urinary or kidney problems, and something known as hypovolemic shock, which can be deadly. Dehydration can also make it more difficult for your body to function in other ways – for instance, your medications might not work as well if you don’t have enough water in your body.

How can you remedy this? Keep a glass or bottle of water with you at all times and sip from it whenever you get the chance. Eat foods that are high in water content, such as watermelon – you can get about 20% of your daily fluid intake from food.

Don’t rely on your thirst to tell you when it’s time to drink something. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Sip on water well before you reach that point.

7. Letting go of social connections.

While it might seem that feeling lonely is as simple as that – just feeling lonely – that emotion can actually go a lot deeper than you might think. Often loneliness goes hand-in-hand with social isolation, and studies have found that social isolation can actually double a person’s risk of dying of cardiovascular problems. There is also a much higher risk of cognitive decline, obesity, and a weakened immune system. And as you might imagine, depression is much more common among those who are isolated.

These issues can have a major impact on every aspect of your life, and that can actually make you feel even lonelier and more isolated. Take steps right now to remedy that problem by getting in touch with family or old friends, and spend time with the ones already in your day-to-day life, and go about making new buddies as often as you can. You can do this simply by being around people – volunteer at your local food bank or church, visit your senior center, meet new friends at community-wide events, and even reach out to others via social media. Join the local gym, strike up a conversation with your favorite barista, and sign up for a pickleball tournament – or simply call friends and family to ask for their help in widening your social circle.

By avoiding these seven health mistakes, you can help ensure that you live a longer, healthier life. And the best part is that you can get started on every one of them right now!