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What are the most common health problems in old age?

What are the most common health problems in old age?

Common health problems in the elderly and how you can manage them

5th – 11th September 2022 was Women’s Health Week. This is a nation-wide campaign centred around improving women’s health and helping you make healthier choices.

In our second blog on the topic, we’re going to look at some common health problems among the elderly, particularly in women.

Are chronic health conditions common?

Older Australians, particularly women, are living longer than ever. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, women who are aged 65 in 2018–20 could expect to live another 23.0 years. Their expected age of death is 88 years.

However older people are also living with many chronic health conditions. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey, 29% of older people had one chronic condition, 23% had two and 28% had three or more. Here we look at some common health problems in the elderly and how some of these problems can be managed.


Arthritis is the most common chronic condition affecting older people. Almost half of people aged 65 and over reported arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic and progressive disease that affects women more often than men. It’s caused by the breakdown of cartilage over the ends of the bones in joints like knees, hips and ankles and can also affect the hands and spine. It causes pain, swelling and loss of motion and usually gets worse over time.

Treatment and management for osteoarthritis may include gentle exercise, weight management, pain medication and joint replacement.

Cardiovascular disease

It’s estimated that 16% of people aged 65–74 and 26% aged 75 and over have heart, stroke or vascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of disease burden in women in and is a common cause for hospitalisations.

There are three ways that cardiovascular disease is managed and treated. First, it’s best to prevent the disease from developing or a cardiovascular event with measures including quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet and regular physical activity. There are also medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

If you have a heart attack or stroke, you will receive acute emergency and hospital care. Then you will receive secondary preventative care to help another event from occurring, which might include medication and other support to help you rehabilitate.

Kidney disease

Your chances of developing kidney disease increases as you aged. It affects around 44% of people over 75 and 21% of people aged 65 – 74. Kidney disease can lead to kidney failure, which means the kidneys are no longer working.

Preventative risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking and overweight and obesity. There are treatment options during the kidney disease stage which can slow its progression. However, the only treatments for kidney failure are dialysis or a transplant.

Respiratory conditions

Older people can be more vulnerable to respiratory conditions, which include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema. Around 6.4% of older women suffer from COPD. There are also acute respiratory conditions such as the flu and COVID-19, which can disproportionally affect older people.

One of the main interventions for COPD is to help smokers to quit. Other preventions and treatments may include immunisations for acute respiratory disease, rehabilitation, medications, and long-term oxygen therapy for people with severe disease.


Dementia is more common as you age, but isn’t a normal part of ageing. Nearly two-thirds of the 472,000 Australians living with dementia are women and it’s the leading cause of death for women.

Although there is no cure for dementia, there are some medications that can reduce the symptoms and help you live an independent life.


The prevalence of diabetes in older Australians has increased in the last few decades. 15% of Australians aged 65–74 and 19% of Australians aged 75 and over reported having diabetes in 2017-18.

Depending on the type of diabetes, treatment can include lifestyle changes, including diet and physical activity, medication and/or insulin.

Mental health

Poor mental health is common in old age. According to the National Health Survey, almost 7 in 10 people aged 65 and over reported low levels of psychological distress in the past 4 weeks. Poor mental health is more common in groups including older carers, people in hospital, people with dementia and those living in residential aged care.

Although there are no cures for mental illness, there are ways you can improve your wellbeing. Some suggestions include eating healthy food, exercising, spending time with family and friends, volunteering or talking to someone if you’re not feeling right. If you need support right now, call [Lifeline]() on 13 11 14.


When women go through menopause, they experience a loss in oestrogen levels which can decrease bone mass and increase the risk of fractures. It’s estimated 29% of women at 75 and older have osteoporosis.

You can help prevent osteoporosis by getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D, doing things like regular weight-bearing and resistance exercise, drinking less alcohol and not smoking. There are also medications for people who have been diagnosed with Osteoporosis to help reduce the risk of fractures after a fall.


Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia. It’s estimated over a million people have had or are living with cancer and one in 7 risk of death from cancer before the age of 85. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in older women followed by lung cancer and melanoma.

Some cancers can be preventable with a healthy lifestyle, including eating well, exercise and quitting smoking. It’s also important to keep up to date with screening including skin checks, mammograms and bowel cancer checks.


Obesity is more common as you age. Around 39% of women aged 65 -74 have obesity compared with 14% of women age 18 – 24. Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, back pain and some cancers. Treatments may include lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, medication and sometimes, bariatric surgery.

If you’re finding it difficult to maintain your health, Five Good Friends can help. With our services, we can provide transport to medical and health appointments, and help you access community services so you can maintain your health. Get in touch to find out more.

Learn more: Health checks for women over 50

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