As you age, you may notice your energy levels aren’t as high as they once were and you may even need an afternoon nap. But are these changes part and parcel of the aging process? How exactly does the aging process affect fatigue?
The short answer is that everyone feels tired sometimes. In fact, nearly a third of people aged 51 and up experience fatigue, according to a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2010. But if you feel tired for weeks at a time and don’t feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, there might be an underlying cause. Endurance can decline as you age — and you can tire more quickly — but fatigue is not a natural part of aging. Here are four root causes to explore.
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 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. Emotional Issues
Spending a significant amount of time worrying can contribute to fatigue. So can anxiety or depression, grief or feeling as though events of your life are spiraling out of control. It isn’t unusual for someone to be suffering from low-grade depression or anxiety and not even be aware of it.
4. Lifestyle Habits
Energy drainers can include what you eat (with fried foods and sweets being common culprits) and what you drink (caffeine found in coffee, tea and some sodas) and alcohol. It’s also crucial to get enough rest; a consistent schedule is key.
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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