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.
- 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 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