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Prevention in Older Adults


Magda Lenartowicz

, MD, Trinity Hospice, Los Angeles

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020

The goals of prevention in an older adult usually depend on the person’s health, level of function, and risk profile, as for the following:

  • Healthy, independent people with no serious disorders: Mainly preventing disorders from developing

  • People who have several mild chronic disorders and who remain independent: Mainly preventing or slowing the decline in function and avoiding the physical deterioration that can make them increasingly dependent on others (called frailty, or decreased physical reserve)

  • Frail people who have several advanced chronic diseases and who have become mostly dependent on others: Mainly preventing accidents and complications that could cause further loss of independence or death


Exercise Exercise in Older Adults At least 75% of people over age 65 do not exercise at recommended levels despite the known health benefits of exercise including Longer survival Improved quality of life (for example, endurance... read more , including aerobic exercise, is still important. Weight lifting helps protect against muscle weakness, age-related loss of muscle tissue, and osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition in which a decrease in the density of bones weakens the bones, making breaks (fractures) likely. Aging, estrogen deficiency, low vitamin D or calcium intake, and... read more Osteoporosis by strengthening muscles and increasing bone density. Aerobic exercise increases endurance and may slightly lower the risk of some heart and blood vessel disorders. In older adults, dancing and tai chi, which can be enjoyable forms of exercise, may have additional benefits, such as enhancing balance and thus helping to prevent falls.

  • Help improve endurance

  • Decrease the frequency and severity of symptoms of certain disorders, such as chest pain (angina) and cramping, aching leg pain (claudication)

  • Decrease the risks of certain disorders developing (such as heart attacks, lung disease, and certain cancers)

Alcohol is metabolized differently in older adults. Older adults who drink alcohol need to be aware that more than one drink per day may increase their risk of injuries and other health problems.

Drugs and vaccines

Understanding drug therapy is particularly important for older adults because they are more susceptible to the side effects of drugs. Factors that can increase susceptibility include age-related differences in how the body processes (metabolizes) and uses many drugs. These differences can lead to interactions between drugs or between drugs and foods. These interactions may not occur in younger people.

A primary care doctor, nurse practitioner, and pharmacist can provide information on all prescription and nonprescription drugs. Knowing the brand and generic name of all drugs taken, each drug’s purpose, the length of time each drug is to be taken, and the activities, foods, drinks, and other drugs to be avoided while taking a drug can help older adults avoid problems. Older adults should bring all of their drugs, both prescription and nonprescription, to their doctor appointments so that these drugs can be reviewed with their doctor.

These vaccines are important because older adults are more susceptible to pneumonia, tetanus, and shingles and because influenza is more likely to lead to pneumonia and other severe problems in older adults.

Injury prevention

The same simple, common-sense safety measures that prevent injuries in younger adults are also useful for older adults (see Safety 101 Safety 101 There are many tools of prevention, including the following major tools: Establishing a healthy lifestyle, which includes habits such as wearing a seat belt, eating a healthy diet, getting enough... read more Safety 101 ). Preventing falls is especially important.

Falls Falls in Older People read more are a leading cause of serious health problems in older adults. The following can help prevent falls:

  • Cleaning up cluttered areas in the home

  • Removing or securing throw rugs, edges of carpet, and uncovered phone and electrical cords to the floor

  • Making sure lighting is adequate

  • Adding handrails, grab bars, and traction or nonskid surfaces (such as strips or nonslip bathmats) to stairways and bathtubs as needed

  • Installing handrails near the toilet and in the tub and shower

  • Not using slippery bath oils

  • Talking with the doctor about stopping any unnecessary drugs and making sure the lowest effective dose of needed drugs is being used

  • Preserving or improving balance (for example, through exercise, dance, or tai chi)

Driving The Older Driver Driving provides older people freedom, independence, and key social interactions with their community that many people take for granted in their youth. But the privilege of driving is based... read more

Older adults may have to limit or give up driving if their vision, reflexes, or overall function is poor. They should not drive when they are taking drugs that cause drowsiness, and they should not drive at night if their night vision is poor.

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