Is your elderly loved one suffering from fatigue?
Fatigue — a condition characterized by a constant, unrelenting feeling of exhaustion that often develops gradually over time — is very common among the aging population. Fortunately, your elderly loved one can rely on DispatchHealth for prompt treatment in the comfort of their own home. Our skilled team can treat nearly every non-life-threatening condition that an emergency room can, and most of our patients pay only $25 to $50 after insurance. We’re in network with most major insurance companies, we accept Medicare and Medicaid, and we even offer a $375 flat rate for uninsured patients.
If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
Fatigue symptoms & when to seek treatment
Many people use the term “fatigue” to describe sleepiness, but being fatigued is actually very different from being drowsy. Sleepiness is a short-term condition that can generally be traced to one specific cause, often overexertion or not getting enough sleep. If someone is sleepy, and then they take a nap or get a good night’s sleep, they’ll typically feel better and more refreshed shortly after. Fatigue, on the other hand, is a more long-term, all-encompassing condition. If your elderly loved one is fatigued, they may report feeling sleepy, but they’ll also experience an overall lack of energy and motivation. And, they won’t find relief from fatigue just by getting more sleep. You might notice that your loved one is sleeping more at night and napping throughout the day but never feeling truly rested.
Fatigue involves both physical and mental exhaustion. With regard to physical fatigue, your aging loved one may find it physically difficult to perform their normal activities. Some physical symptoms of fatigue include:
With regard to mental fatigue, your elderly loved one may feel depressed or have trouble concentrating or remembering things. In other words, whereas physical fatigue involves not having enough physical strength or endurance to perform an activity, mental fatigue involves not having enough mental energy or motivation to do so. Some mental symptoms of fatigue include:
- Difficulty concentrating and staying on task
- Memory problems
- Lack of motivation
- Slowed response times
- Mood swings
Fatigue — whether physical, mental, or both — generally requires prompt treatment. But, certain symptoms signal the need for emergency care. Be sure to seek emergency treatment if your loved one is experiencing chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, feelings of faintness, severe pain, or bleeding, or if they’re thinking about harming themselves or someone else.
What causes fatigue in seniors?
People often assume that fatigue is an inevitable result of the natural aging process, and thus postpone seeking treatment. Actually, fatigue often has a specific, treatable cause. In many cases, fatigue is a symptom of a separate medical condition. There are numerous conditions common among seniors that can cause fatigue, such as:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Heart disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid disease (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism)
Your elderly loved one could also have a sleep disorder preventing them from getting enough rest, such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea. Or, if they’ve been experiencing fatigue and various other symptoms for at least six months and all other potential causes have been ruled out, they could also have a separate condition known as “chronic fatigue syndrome” or “myalgic encephalomyelitis.”
Fatigue can also stem from mental or emotional issues. It’s very common for older adults to feel stressed, whether it be about their health, their finances, or what might happen to them in the future. When people reach retirement age, they may be bored and unsure about what to do with so much free time on their hands. Plus, with more family members and friends passing away from old age, they may be going through the grieving process more and more frequently. All of this can contribute to the development of anxiety and depression, which can in turn cause fatigue.
Many seniors also experience fatigue as a side effect of certain medications or medical treatments. Or, certain lifestyle choices could be causing your aging loved one to experience fatigue. Interestingly, both a lack of physical activity and too much physical activity can lead to fatigue. Your loved one could also be experiencing fatigue if their diet isn’t nutritious enough, or if they’re consuming too much caffeine or alcohol.
How to prevent fatigue in seniors
The best way to prevent your elderly loved one from developing fatigue is to encourage them to follow healthy habits on a daily basis. This includes:
- Diet. Eating nutritiously and drinking enough water are both essential to an overall healthy lifestyle. Your loved one may benefit from eating numerous smaller meals throughout the day, since they’ll have a consistent source of energy.
- Exercise. It sounds counterintuitive, but if your loved one leads a relatively sedentary lifestyle, exercising more could help them feel less fatigued. This is in part because a lack of exercise leads to muscle loss, which can make it more difficult to perform routine tasks. Exercise can also provide energy and improve your loved one’s mood. If your loved one hasn’t been active for a while, though, be sure to ask a doctor, physical therapist, or sports therapist before they attempt a new workout.
- Stress-relieving techniques. People often find that mindfulness practices and exercises such as yoga and tai chi help them feel less stressed. Planning enjoyable activities could also help your loved one socialize and feel happier and more fulfilled, thereby lowering their risk of developing anxiety or depression.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with a condition that often causes fatigue, taking steps to treat that underlying condition now may prevent fatigue from becoming an issue in the future. Or, if they’re currently taking medication that lists fatigue as a potential side effect, they may want to consider switching to a different medication (although they should only do this under the advice of a physician).
If left untreated
If your elderly loved one is experiencing fatigue, it’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, fatigue can get progressively worse over time and have even more of an impact on your loved one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Plus, if it turns out that an undiagnosed medical condition is causing the fatigue, obtaining a diagnosis and starting treatment for the underlying condition could improve your loved one’s overall health.
To receive prompt treatment for fatigue from the experts at DispatchHealth, simply call us or use our website or mobile app to request in-home care. Our team will arrive just a few hours later, saving your loved one the strain of having to leave the house and travel to a clinic.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell MD, MS on October 3rd, 2019