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Seniors and Disease- 3 Reasons Why Seniors are More Susceptible to Disease


Lately, I seem to be much more aware of issues regarding health and diet and exercise. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with my recent ankle surgery and subsequent rehab, plus my 40th college reunion. Call it the perfect intersection of significant events.


I have written several articles on diet and exercise, touting essential stretching exercises to a few lifetime sports and several things in-between. Still, seniors are more prone to disease than other age groups. A recent review by the University of Michigan School of Public Health cited a  study stating that “over 85 percent of US adults aged 65 and over suffer from at least one chronic illness and about 65–75 percent of those adults suffer from two or more chronic illnesses.”  According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a chronic illness is one that “is a physical or mental health condition that lasts more than one year and causes functional restrictions or requires ongoing monitoring or treatment.” The study also says that the top 5 chronic diseases suffered by older adults are “heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and diabetes.” Here are a few reasons why the elderly are generally more prone to disease and chronic illness than other age groups.


  • Age – Writing in Infectious Disease News, Keith S. Kaye, MD discusses the reasons why seniors are more prone to illness. One reason, he notes is that often the immune system does not function as well or as vigorously. A second cause is frailty. Furthermore, just growing older increases your odds of eventually having something.


  • Lifestyle choicesMladen Golubic, MD, PhD, the Medical Director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, states in an online chat that “poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief of chronic stress are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases.”


  • GeneticsNicholette Zeliadt, a freelance journalist, writing in Scientific American, cites a study by professors Sebastiani and Perls of Boston University. Their research found that “genetics only account for approximately 20 to 30 percent of an individual’s chance of surviving to age 85.” Nevertheless, “genetic factors can contribute to the degree of longevity in at least two important ways: An individual may inherit certain genetic variations that predispose him or her to disease that decreases longevity; other gene variants may confer disease resistance, thereby increasing it.”


I’m guessing none of this information is particularly surprising. However, it’s never a bad idea to review information like this and be up to date. Also, there are a number of chronic illnesses you could substitute for the five listed by the study. Included are problems like arthritis, high blood pressure, and depression. It’s no secret that the longer you live the greater the odds are of catching a disease. Nor is it surprising that (poor) lifestyle choices can increase your chances of illness or disease. Genetics, even with only a 20 or 30 percent chance, can still show a predisposition for getting a disease. All this tells me is that there are steps we can all, young and old, take to reduce our chances of ever being diagnosed with a chronic or fatal illness. Next week, we’ll take a look at those actions.