Top Health Conditions for Adults Over 65

Lifestyle Changes Promote Longer Life

The leading causes of death among adults over the age of 65 are also among the most common causes of death among the population as a whole. Many of these conditions are also highly preventable and treatable. It is important to understand these diseases, know when and where to get treatment, and know how you can live with them to help prolong life and health.

Senior couple jogging on beach
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This article outlines the top causes of death for adults over the age of 65, starting with the number one cause: heart disease. Using disease prevention strategies, such as eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help you avoid or reduce the impact of some these conditions.

1

Heart Disease

Heart disease includes heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease (narrowing or hardening of the arteries), and heart arrhythmia. These conditions can cause your heart to beat ineffectively and affect your circulation.

These conditions are associated with—or caused by—diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood). Smoking, improper diet, obesity, too much alcohol, lack of exercise, and family history increase your risk of developing heart disease.

That means that quitting smoking (or not starting), achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet can all help reduce your risk of heart disease.

If you have a family history of heart disease or you have any of the conditions associated with heart disease, talk to your healthcare provider about how to lower your personal risk.

2

Cancer

All kinds of cancer, including breast cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, and blood and bone marrow cancers (like leukemia) fall into this category. As we age, our risk of developing cancer increases.

Lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of developing cancer include not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, eating more fruits and vegetables, and cutting back on red and processed meats. Using sun protection can also help protect against the development of skin cancer.

A recent study also showed that people who engaged in recommended amounts of exercise had a statistically significant reduction in seven of the 15 cancer types studied.

3

COVID-19

In 2020, COVID-19 emerged as a leading cause of death around the globe. Symptoms vary by person, but older people—and those with other conditions like lung disease—are at a greater risk of serious illness.

The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to get your vaccine and booster shots. Follow appropriate masking guidance for your area, and avoid contact with people who are sick.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any underlying conditions you have, and when your symptoms might warrant a trip to the hospital.

4

Cerebrovascular Disease (Stroke)

Cerebrovascular disease is a group of conditions that includes stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. This can be due to a blood clot or blockage (like a cholesterol plaque) that cuts off blood flow to a part of the brain, or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. Both can cause damage or death to brain tissue.

Strokes can cause paralysis, speech disorders, swallowing problems, and immobility. High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most important risk factor for stroke, but diabetes, high cholesterol, and smoking also increase the risk.

Quitting smoking and managing conditions such as high blood pressure with the help of your healthcare provider can help lower your risk of stroke.

5

Alzheimer's Disease

This progressive and deadly disease causes progressive memory loss, personality changes, and eventually, a complete loss of function and ability. The causes of Alzheimer's disease are unknown, but there are medications that can slow it down.

Avoiding head trauma will reduce your risk. Ways to do this include wearing a seat belt and wearing a helmet when playing contact sports. Challenging your brain by studying a new area or learning a new skill may also offer some protection. Smoking has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease.

Diabetes may increase your risk, and studies have shown that people with high blood sugar had more rapid cognitive decline compared to those with normal blood sugar. Diet may have a significant protective effect. Research has shown that the MIND diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%. The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets.

6

Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic lower respiratory disease (CLRD) is a group of four diseases: chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and asthma. These conditions make it difficult to breathe. As they progress or get worse, you have to work harder and harder to catch your breath, often feeling like you're suffocating.

The most important thing you can do to prevent or slow the progression of CLRD is to stop smoking (or not start) and avoid secondhand smoke. Be mindful of using a wood-burning stove or fireplace, as they can increase also increase your risk of lung damage.

More than 50% of people with lung disease don't even know they have it. Early detection in the form of a simple, non-invasive breathing test (called spirometry) is key to good outcomes.

7

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is a chronic disease that weakens the immune system and can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and other circulatory problems. With this condition, wounds take longer to heal and respiratory infections, like pneumonia, can be more severe.

Maintaining an appropriate weight by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Smokers are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Quit smoking or avoid it altogether.

8

Accidents

Drug overdoses, car accidents, poisonings, and falls can all be deadly. In older people, simple falls can result in fractures that cause immobility and disability and may hasten death. 

Balance disorders, failing eyesight, and slower reflexes may contribute to a greater risk of accidents in people aged 65 and older.

Exercise programs can help you improve your balance and maintain strength. Other steps you can take to minimize your risks of a fall include: keeping eyeglass prescriptions up to date, rising slowly from a sitting position (to avoid getting dizzy), and wearing rubber-soled, flat shoes.

It's also important to be aware of potential side effects of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

Recap

If you take prescription or over-the-counter drugs to manage different medical conditions, it's important to talk with your doctor to make sure it's okay to take the medicines together. In some cases, drugs can interact and cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other symptoms that could contribute to an accident or fall.

9

Nephritis

Kidney inflammation, or nephritis, can be sudden (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Possible causes include bacterial infection or exposure to chemicals or toxins, such as mercury, arsenic, or alcohol. Autoimmune disease and a number of medications may also play a role.

If left untreated, kidney inflammation can cause your kidneys to fail (also called renal failure). When your kidneys fail, toxins can build up because your body can't filter your blood properly. You may see a decrease in urine output. Chronic renal failure may lead to a ​need for dialysis. See a healthcare provider for treatment if you have symptoms of a kidney problem.

10

Pneumonia and Influenza

Pneumonia and the flu are worse during the winter months. People with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory conditions, have a higher risk of contracting these illnesses and developing serious complications from them.

Talk to your healthcare provider about annual vaccines that can help you keep from getting sick. Practice good hand hygiene to avoid spreading germs and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke to help your lungs stay strong.

The flu shot is recommended for all adults who do not have a contraindication (such as prior life-threatening reaction). Pneumococcal vaccination (which protects against pneumonia and other diseases) is also recommended in all adults ages 65 and older and in some younger adults with certain high-risk conditions.

Summary

Increasingly, adults are living longer, healthier lives. In fact, many of the leading causes of death in people over the age of 65 can be prevented or slowed down. By taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle—such as not smoking, exercising regularly, and modifying your diet—you can avoid conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes that can affect the quality and length of your life.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Marian Anne Eure
Marian Eure, RN, is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in adult health care, health promotion, and health education.