Common Health Concerns For Seniors

Before joining Brentwood Medical Clinic in 2011, Dr. Ali Ghahary worked with a large percentage of geriatric patients, including at the Louis Brier Home & Hospital in Vancouver – a long-term care facility funded by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority.

In 1914, Dr. Ignatz L. Nascher wrote the first book on geriatrics. The term “geriatrics” is derived from the Greek work “geras,” meaning old age, and “iatrikos,” meaning physician, and is the field of medicine that specializes in the healthcare of elderly patients.

In 2014, over 6 million Canadians consisted of geriatric patients aged 65 and up. That number is expected to rise by as much as 7 percent in the year 2030. According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in Canada is 82.2 years of age. As seniors are now living healthier and longer lives, this is an umber that is also expected to rise over time. However, elderly patients often require more healthcare resources including assisted living and extended care facilities.

As soon as we are born the aging process begins, though it progresses at different rates in each individual. Certain factors such as genetics, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and occupational hazards as well as physical and social environments all play a part in how we age. It is important for elderly individuals to see their physician for regular check-ups to ensure optimal health. Below are some examples of common physical changes and diseases that elderly patients may experience:

Integumentary
• Bruising
• Signs of infection
• Hair thinning/loss of hair colour
• Dry skin/skin that loses its elasticity
• Development of wrinkes
• Age spots
• Increased sensitivity to cold
• Skin cancer

Nervous
• Problems with balance
• Difficulty with body temperature regulation
Sleep problems

Sensory
• Eyesight changes/cataracts
• Smell and taste receptors less sensitive
• Hearing diminishes

Musculoskeletal
• Less muscle strength and flexibility
• Slow movements
• Osteoporosis
Arthritis

Respiratory
• A decrease in breathing capacity
• Lung infections

Urinary
• Incontinence (lack of bladder control)
• Difficulty emptying bladder completely
• Decrease in kidney size

Digestive
• Increased constipation
• Increased flatulence
• Slower digestion of food
• Other digestive problems such as GERD

Cardiovascular
• Narrowing of blood vessels
Heart problems

Endocrine
• Decrease in estrogen and progesterone
• Increased risk of diabetes
• Hot flashes
Weight gain

Reproductive
• Cease of menstruation/ovulation (females)
• Enlarged prostate gland (males)

Common Disorders Associated With the Digestive System

The digestive system is a collection of organs that work together in getting food in and out of your body. These organs include the mouth, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, liver, colon, rectum and anus. Symptoms associated with the digestive system include the occasional nausea, upset stomach and heartburn, to more severe, life-threatening disorders. Such disorders usually have unknown causes and are complex with subtle symptoms. While some may be generic, they may also develop due to a number of different factors including fatigue, stress, diet, smoking and alcohol abuse. Diagnostic testing, including laboratory tests, medical imaging and endoscopic procedures may be necessary to diagnose certain disorders.

Digestive System
Digestive System

Below, Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary gives further insight into some of the common disorders that are associated with the digestive system.

Appendicitis
As written about in a previous article by Dr. Ali Ghahary, appendicitis occurs when the appendix becomes inflamed, resulting in abdominal pain and other symptoms, and can be a life-threatening condition if not treated immediately.

For more information on appendicitis, visit http://alighahary.blogspot.ca.

Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is a chronic disease and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs as a result of scarring, also known as fibrosis, to the liver. The scarring replaces otherwise healthy tissues which then prevents the liver from being able to function normally. Cirrhosis has many possible causes; however, the most common causes include excessive consumption of alcohol and viral hepatitis (mainly hepatitis B and hepatitis C.) Symptoms include edema, fatigue, jaundice, bruising, weight and muscle loss, and frequent infections. Oftentimes, symptoms of cirrhosis will not present until the disease has progressed.

Colitis
Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine that can be caused by chronic infections, impaired blood flow or other inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of colitis include abdominal pain and/or bloating, bloody stools, dehydration and diarrhea. It can be identified by a colonoscopy.

Colorectal Cancer
This is cancer of the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine which is located in the lower part of the digestive system. In most cases, colorectal cancer begins with small, benign polyps that turn cancerous over time. Because these polyps are usually small, they initially produce very little, if any, symptoms. However, you may notice a change in your bowel habits, have blood stools, persistent cramps and abdominal pain. It is important to go for regular screening as this can dramatically reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, and early detection is also important.

Other common disorders of the digestive system not mentioned here include diverticulitis, hernia, GERD, peptic ulcer disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

For more information on any of these conditions, follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on social media.

Understanding Inflammation

When Canadians think of inflammation, we often think of it as damage to the body that causes pain and swelling, and even infection. While this is true to a certain extent, inflammation is actually the body’s natural response to something it perceives to be harmful. So while infection is oftentimes easily associated with inflammation, inflammation does not necessarily mean an infection is present. Inflammation occurs by releasing chemicals from the white blood cells, which assists in protecting the body from and removing any damaged pathogens, cells or other irritants. A bacterium, fungus or virus causes infection, and inflammation is simply the body’s response to it. When inflammation is present, this means that the body is trying to heal itself. If inflammation did not occur, our bodies would never properly heal.

There are two types of inflammation that can occur. Acute and Chronic. Acute means the rapid onset of inflammation, which can become severe but has a short healing period. Acute inflammation can be the result of having a sore or scratch throat caused by the common cold or flu, bronchitis, skin wounds, dermatitis, appendicitis or sinusitis. Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation is long-term and can last from months to years. Chronic inflammation can be caused by the failure to eliminate acute inflammation as well as other persisting irritants. It can result in several diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever, and even certain cancers. Chronic sinusitis, asthma, and digestive orders such as Crohn’s disease are also linked to chronic inflammation. Signs and symptoms of inflammation can include pain to the affected areas (especially upon touch), redness, swelling, and the feeling of warmth.

Autoimmune diseases can also result in inflammation. An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system issues a response to otherwise healthy tissues and mistakes them for pathogens or irritants that are harmful. Examples of autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, psoriasis, and fibromyalgia.

In certain cases, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, Canada, will prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms associated with inflammation. These medications include anti-inflammatories known as NSAIDs – such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen, and are used to treat inflammation and pain. For more information on chronic pain management, visit alighahary.blogspot.ca. Corticosteroids such as Prednisone are also commonly used to treat inflammation. As these drugs can result in serious side effects and other health conditions, it is not recommended that they are taken long-term unless otherwise noted by your physician.

Epilepsy Triggers and Treatment

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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that is the result of abnormal brain activity, bringing about loss of consciousness, convulsions (seizures) and other sensory disturbances. Symptoms of epilepsy range from mild episodes of staring or petit-mal seizures, to more severe and uncontrolled movements and seizures known as grand-mal.

Epilepsy currently affects up to 65 million individuals worldwide and 300,000 Canadians, with 15,000 new cases of the disorder being diagnosed in Canada each year. At least 30% of patients that are diagnosed with epilepsy also have accompanying learning disabilities, psychiatric disorders, memory loss, and even behavioural problems. The number of Canadians diagnosed with epilepsy is higher than the number of Canadians that have been diagnosed with colon cancer, and almost as high as the number of Canadians with prostate and breast cancer. (It is always important to have regular checkups with your physician and go for any screenings required. http://alighahary.blogspot.ca)

In as many as 60% of the cases of epilepsy, the cause is unknown. However, epilepsy can also be the result of serious brain injury (i.e. trauma at birth), being involved a motor vehicle accident, or having a stroke. Brain tumors and certain infections can also lead to epilepsy. While epilepsy is more frequently diagnosed in children and seniors, it can affect individuals of all ages. 44% are diagnosed with epilepsy before the age of 5, 55% before the age of 10, and 75% to 85% before age 18. In nearly half of childhood cases, seizures disappear completely.

Along with the aforementioned causes, seizures can also be triggered by stress, emotions, lack of sleep, having poor nutrition or skipping meals, illness, fever and allergies.

Long-term drug therapy is used to treat epilepsy. Vancouver physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary and Neurologists across Canada prescribe both narrow-spectrum and broad-spectrum AED’s, depending on the types of seizures the patient is having, and they can be prescribed as a single medication or used in combination with others. Medications prescribed to treat epilepsy include those in the class known as Benzodiazepines, such as Clonazepam and Diazepam, which are also commonly used to treat those who have anxiety or difficulty sleeping. Other medications commonly prescribed to treat epilepsy and seizures include Divalproex, Gabapentin and Carbamazepine. If medications are unsuccessful, brain surgery may be considered.

As always, these medications have side effects and one individual may not react the same as another, so it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of these drugs with your doctor and pharmacist and be sure to make them aware of any concerns you have or side effects you may be experiencing.