The top 4 common chronic illnesses in Seniors explained


It’s true that senior adults are more likely to experience common chronic illnesses. But there’s still good news – a healthy, quality life is possible by managing the symptoms of these chronic illnesses and making the right lifestyle choices.  

In this article, we discuss the four most common chronic illnesses in seniors and how to manage them. 

High blood pressure (hypertension) affects 58% of seniors

High blood pressure (hypertension) often shows no symptoms, so regular blood pressure checks are vital. Even older adults who eat healthy and regularly get moderate exercise can have high blood pressure. Unmanaged blood pressure could cause heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia, eye problems, and kidney disease.    

Blood pressure results are given in two numbers. The first is systolic blood pressure, caused by the heart contracting and pushing out blood. The second number is diastolic blood pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. 

Normal blood pressure 120/80
High blood pressure 130 or higher/80 or higher
Elevated blood pressure 120 – 129/less than 80
Low blood pressure 90 and lower/60 and lower


Taking medication recommended by your doctor and making the following lifestyle changes will lower blood pressure.   

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise moderately by walking or swimming.
  • Follow the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. 
  • Get at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep.
  • Reduce your salt and alcohol intake.
  • Do not smoke.

High cholesterol affects 47% of seniors

According to the American Heart Association, high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) can cause coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Cholesterol comes from two sources:the liver and foods high in saturated and trans fats such as meat, poultry, and dairy products.

Normal cholesterol is needed to build cells, make vitamins, and certain hormones. Eating foods high in saturated and trans fats forces the liver to manufacture high levels of cholesterol that forms a thick, hard deposit inside our arteries, blocking blood flow.

To manage cholesterol, follow the 3 C’s rule:

Check. Check your cholesterol levels, as it is important to know your numbers and assess your risk.

Change. Change your diet by eating more low-fat foods and exercising moderately. 

Control. Control your cholesterol with medication prescribed by your doctor, if required.   

Arthritis affects 31% of seniors

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among seniors. This disease occurs when cartilage, the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones within the joints, breaks down and wears away, leaving the bones to rub against each other.  

The condition generally affects the neck, hands, lower back, knees, hips, and feet. Not everyone with osteoarthritis feels pain, but there is no cure for the disease. The common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Joint pain, swelling, and tenderness
  • Stiffness after getting out of bed
  • Crunching sounds like bone rubbing on bone. 

Pro-active participation by affected seniors is important for the effective management of the disease. Treatment plans include pain relief, rest, joint care, weight control, exercise, medicines, surgery, and complementary treatments.

Coronary heart disease affects 29% of seniors

Older adults are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, suffer a heart attack, or have a stroke. Heart disease is caused by the buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of coronary arteries over many years, which is called atherosclerosis. Regular checkups with a doctor are essential as heart disease shows little to no symptoms in its early stages.    

Heart attack symptoms for females are sometimes different from those males experience. Common heart attack symptoms for both groups are: 

  • Chest pain during physical activity that gets better when resting.
  • Tingling, numbness, pain in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches, nausea, or cold sweats.
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, stomach, and/or neck. 

The steps to take towards a healthier heart include:

Manage other chronic diseases. Keep cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes in control.

Maintain a healthy weight. Limit food portion sizes and do moderate exercise.  

Follow a heart-healthy diet. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber foods.  

Exercise. Clean the house, garden, walk briskly, cycle, dance, or go bowling. 

For more information, or if you have any questions about common chronic illnesses in older adults, please contact our team at UMC today. We look forward to hearing from you.

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