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Spotlight on Aging: Thyroid Gland Changes in Older People

Spotlight on Aging: Thyroid Gland Changes in Older People

Aging itself has only minor effects on the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones. As people get older, the thyroid gland shrinks and shifts lower in the neck. The level of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) may fall slightly, but the speed of vital functions changes very little. However, thyroid disorders become more common with aging.

Disorders that affect thyroid function, particularly hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, can be thought of as great masqueraders in older people. These disorders often cause symptoms that are easily mistaken for symptoms of other conditions or even as signs of getting old.

Increased or decreased thyroid function can dramatically worsen the way an older person feels and can greatly diminish the ability to carry out daily activities. For these reasons, the great masqueraders must be unmasked and recognized for what they are so that they can be effectively treated.

Screening older people for hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism is helpful. Some experts recommend measuring the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone in the blood in people over 65 every 5 years.