Seniors planning to age independently at home try to live healthy and active lives. However, as we age, many may notice their energy levels aren’t as high as they once were – suddenly afternoon naps become even more appealing. In fact, according to a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2010, nearly a third of people aged 51 and up experience fatigue. But are these energy declines part and parcel of the aging process? Or is the fatigue under our control?
As we get older endurance can decline— and you can tire more quickly — but ongoing fatigue is not a natural part of aging. If you feel tired for weeks at a time and don’t feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, it may be worth a conversation with your doctor to get to the root of the issue. Below are a few factors that may play a role in ongoing fatigue:
- 1. Medical Issues
Some illnesses, from the flu to rheumatoid arthritis and infections to cancer, can cause fatigue. If you have anemia, you will likely notice a drop in energy when your “blood has too few red blood cells or those cells have too little hemoglobin.” Heart disease is another cause of fatigue because, as blood is pumped less efficiently, fluid accumulates in the lungs, which can lead to shortness of breath. This, in turn, lowers the oxygen levels going to your heart and lungs, potentially causing fatigue. Yet another medical cause is hypothyroidism.
Medications (antidepressants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications and more) can be a source of fatigue. Check with your doctor if you’ve added a new one or changed your dosage and then experience excessive tiredness. Certain medications are best taken at night because they can be a source of fatigue. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can cause significant fatigue.
- 2. Sleep Challenges
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s natural to feel tired. Causes of sleep problems include things like restless leg syndrome, a condition characterized by a nearly irresistible urge to move the legs, or sleep apnea, in which the affected person has paused or shallow breathing while sleeping; this isn’t unusual with older adults. People with overactive bladders and enlarged prostates can wake multiple times a night to use the bathroom, which also disturbs sleep.
- 3. Mental Health
Since the pandemic, we’ve all had to take a closer look at our mental health and make sure we are in tune with our feelings. Sometimes the worries of the world can weigh too heavy on us which can detract from sleep. Things like anxiety or depression can impact anyone and while only 5% - 7% of seniors are diagnosed with depression and nearly 4% with anxiety, many more cases go undiagnosed due to stigmas around mental health. It isn’t unusual for someone to be suffering from low-grade depression or anxiety and not even be aware of it. Grief can also play a role in preventing sleep.
- 4. Lifestyle Habits
We all know the adage of “garbage in, garbage out” and that could not be truer of lifestyle habits. If energy is derived from the fuels we consume, then healthy food and drinks are the best fuel we can offer our bodies. Avoiding excessive alcohol, sugar, fatty foods and caffeine can have a quick impact on how we feel. Exercise can also play an important role in maintaining energy levels.
How to Reduce Fatigue
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercising regularly
- Stopping smoking
- Engaging in productive, enjoyable activities
- Limiting napping
- Drinking a cup of morning coffee or tea
- Eliminating or reducing alcohol use
It can also help to keep a fatigue diary to spot patterns. When do you have the most energy? Feel the most fatigued? This diary can be especially helpful if you ultimately decide to consult your doctor about the issue. He or she will want information about your daily activities, which is easier if you keep a diary, and your doctor will probably conduct a physical exam and lab tests, as well, to pinpoint the causes of your fatigue.
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