Our thyroids play a critical role in our body’s overall health. The gland produces a hormone that controls how we use energy — a system commonly called the metabolism. When the thyroid malfunctions by producing either too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) hormone, it causes problems throughout the body. Left untreated, both conditions can have long-term health implications.
Thyroid disorders are common among older people. Consider these statistics:
- Approximately 15% of all patients diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are over the age of 60.
- One out of every five women over the age of 65 has higher than normal thyroid hormone, which could indicate hypothyroidism.
- An estimated 25% of nursing home patients have undiagnosed hypothyroidism.
Unfortunately, this disorder often goes undiagnosed because physicians dismiss symptoms like depression, memory loss, fatigue, and sleeplessness as a normal part of the aging process. Because of this, seniors should pay close attention to their symptoms and consult their primary care physician with any concerns.
What is Thyroid Disease
The thyroid typically malfunctions in two different ways:
Hyperthyroidism: With this condition, the thyroid produces too much hormone and, as a result, increases the body’s metabolism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include sudden weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, increased appetite, anxiety, hand tremors, sweating, increased sensitivity to heat, changes in bowel patterns, an enlarged thyroid gland, fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty sleeping.
Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid produces too little hormone, it results in a low metabolic rate. Depending on how low thyroid hormone levels are, symptoms of hypothyroidism may include fatigue, sluggishness, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, hoarseness, brittle hair and nails, unexplained weight gain, muscle aches and stiffness, swollen and stiff joints, and depression.
Patients with thyroid disease often have several unpleasant symptoms that interfere with their daily lives. However, to uncover thyroid disorders, doctors must look beyond the apparent symptoms to discover the actual cause. Perhaps more importantly, patients who experience these symptoms shouldn’t write them off because untreated thyroid disorders can lead to long-term health problems.
Risks of Thyroid Disease
Untreated thyroid disease causes more than just uncomfortable side effects. Hypothyroidism is a risk factor for high cholesterol and heart disease, which can lead to more significant problems like stroke and dementia. Because so many elderly people don’t get diagnosed with hypothyroidism for years, it’s important they get their cholesterol levels checked regularly. It’s also important that doctors evaluate the thyroid health of patients with persistently high cholesterol levels. Because in these instances, hypothyroidism could be the underlying cause. In contrast, hyperthyroidism leads to osteoporosis, which weakens the bones. Weak bones lead to an increased risk of fracture, which can have deadly consequences.
Treating Thyroid Disease
To reduce hormone levels, doctors frequently treat hyperthyroidism with antithyroid drugs or radioactive iodine. During the first months of treatment, doctors may also monitor cardiac levels because changing thyroid levels can impact the heart. In some cases, doctors will prescribe a beta-blocker, which slows a rapid heart rate. Treatment for hypothyroidism involves administering a gradually increasing dose of a hormone replacement drug. Patients receiving hormone replacement sometimes experience angina, shortness of breath, confusion, and change in sleep habits. However, these symptoms usually ease once the heart and central nervous system adjust to new hormone levels.
Because of the insidious nature of this disease, seniors should pay attention to their bodies to monitor any unusual symptoms. And, more importantly, not write off the symptoms as a natural part of aging. Instead, seniors should consult their primary care physician if they notice any of these symptoms and ask about thyroid disease specifically. This condition is treatable, and under the right care, patients can see an improvement in their quality of life. After all, by increasing our awareness of our thyroid health, we’re helping to support our overall health. That’s a goal we should all pursue in the new year.
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.