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10 Common Chronic Diseases in Seniors: How to Prevent and Manage

most common chronic diseases in older adults

Keep seniors healthier by understanding chronic health conditions

80% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 68% have two or more.

Despite these statistics, older adults can maximize health and quality of life by managing symptoms from existing health conditions and reducing the risk of developing other conditions.

The National Council on Aging has put together a list of the top 10 most common chronic diseases in older adults on Medicare along with tips to prevent or manage them.

To help your older adult stay as healthy as possible, we share NCOA’s helpful infographic and highlight key information as well as prevention and management tips for each of the 10 chronic conditions.


most common chronic diseases in older adults

1. High blood pressure (hypertension) affects 58% of seniors

High blood pressure (also known as HBP or hypertension) is a serious condition that affects 58% of seniors on Medicare.

It’s often called the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms.

But it damages blood vessels and increases the risk of serious (and sometimes fatal) conditions like stroke and heart attack.

Prevent or reduce high blood pressure by:

  1. Maintaining a healthy weight

  2. Reducing stress

  3. Limiting salt and alcohol

  4. Exercising regularly (daily, if possible)

  5. Check blood pressure regularly to monitor progress or detect pre-hypertension

2. High cholesterol affects 47% of seniors

Nearly half of all seniors on Medicare were treated for high cholesterol. When the body has too many bad fats, arteries get clogged and cause heart disease.

Prevent or manage high cholesterol by:

  1. Quitting smoking

  2. Reducing the amount of alcohol consumed

  3. Staying active and/or exercising regularly

  4. Maintaining a healthy weight

  5. Eating less saturated and trans fats

3. Arthritis affects 31% of seniors

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It’s a joint disease where the joint cartilage is breaking down over time.

That causes swelling and inflammation which leads to pain and stiffness.

Some people dismiss arthritis as occasional aches or stiffness, but chronic arthritis pain can be so severe that seniors are forced to make unwanted lifestyle changes.

Delay arthritis onset or manage symptoms by:

  1. Exercising regularly, ideally 5 times/week for 30 minutes each time – this improves function and decreases pain

  2. Maintaining a healthy weight – losing just one pound can remove 4 pounds of pressure from knees

  3. Being careful to avoid joint injuries

  4. Not smoking

4. Coronary heart disease affects 29% of seniors

Coronary heart disease (also called ischemic heart disease) is caused when plaque builds up in the arteries leading to the heart.

That decreases the amount of blood going to the heart and can cause additional complications like blood clots, angina, or heart attack.

Prevent or manage coronary heart disease by:

  1. Limiting saturated and trans fats, sugar, and salt

  2. Sleeping 7-8 hours each night

  3. Reducing stress

  4. Exercising regularly

  5. Not smoking

  6. Talk to the doctor about managing major risk factors, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure


5. Diabetes affects 27% of seniors

When someone has diabetes, the level of glucose in their blood (blood sugar) is too high. This can happen when the body doesn’t make enough insulin.

When there isn’t enough insulin, glucose doesn’t get moved into the cells of the body. Instead, it builds up in the blood and causes high blood sugar.

Over time, high blood sugar seriously damages the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, gums, teeth, nerves, and blood vessels.

This leads to health conditions like heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.

People with diabetes are also more likely to have heart disease or a stroke, and at an earlier age.

Prevent or manage diabetes by:

  1. Eating a healthy diet and talking to the doctor about alcohol consumption

  2. Exercising regularly – 30 minutes, 5 times/week to keep blood sugar levels in check and control weight

  3. Losing 5-7% of body weight if diagnosed with pre-diabetes

6. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects 18% of seniors

Chronic kidney disease causes a slow decline in kidney function over time. That causes an increased risk of heart disease or kidney failure.

Prevent CKD or reduce symptoms by:

  1. Reducing the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure or managing symptoms – essential because these are the 2 biggest risk factors for kidney damage

  2. Staying current on screenings for early detection and treatment

  3. Taking prescriptions to reduce and manage symptoms

7. Heart failure affects 14% of seniors

Heart failure is when the heart becomes weakened and can’t pump as efficiently and can’t supply enough blood and oxygen to the entire body.

This can cause changes in the heart muscle that cause fatigue, light-headedness, nausea, confusion, or decreased appetite.

Prevent or manage heart failure by:

  1. Decreasing risk for coronary heart disease and high blood pressure

8. Depression affects 14% of seniors

Depression is a treatable medical condition that is not a normal part of aging.

It can cause persistent feelings of sadness, emotional numbness, anxiety, sleep problems, concentration and memory problems, changes in appetite or weight, a loss of interest in activities, and more.

Prevent or manage depression by:

  1. Staying connected with people

  2. Eating a healthy diet

  3. Limiting alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed foods

  4. Exercising regularly

  5. Talking to the doctor about treatment options like therapy or medications

  6. See additional ways to help seniors with depression

If you’re concerned about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

9. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affects 11% of seniors

Alzheimer’s disease is is a form of dementia. It’s the most common type and accounts for 60 – 80% of all dementia cases.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of cognitive symptoms.

It’s caused when the brain is damaged by diseases like Alzheimer’s, many small strokes, or brain injuries.

Alzheimer’s and other dementias cause memory loss and difficulty thinking or problem-solving that interfere with everyday life.

Reduce the risk of dementia by:

  1. Exercising regularly, both the body and the brain

  2. Staying engaged in life and maintaining social connections

  3. Getting good quality sleep

  4. Eating a healthy diet

10. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects 11% of seniors

COPD is a disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It makes it hard to breathe and causes shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness.

Prevent COPD or manage symptoms by:

  1. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, chemical fumes, and dust

  2. Taking prescribed treatments

  3. Getting flu and pneumonia vaccines

  4. Remaining as active as possible

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team Image: NM Cardiology

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