As we get older, clicking joints, graying hair, and wrinkles are to be expected and are no cause for alarm. However, some symptoms commonly attributed to aging, such as chronic pain and memory loss, are not normal and could be signs of a serious underlying medical condition.
Though genes and lifestyle affect how quickly we age, many people enjoy a relatively active, undiminished life well into their 80s. If you, or a loved one, is experiencing one of the symptoms below, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Numbness or tingling in the extremities – As you grow older, you might become less sensitive to textures, heat, and cold in objects that you touch, but a complete loss of sensation is not normal. Numbness can be caused by a pinched nerve, diabetic neuropathy, an adverse reaction to medication, or a growing tumor. Numbness down one arm or one side of the body is a sign of stroke, and requires immediate medical attention.
Recurring joint or muscle pain – Pain is not normal. Joint pain is a symptom of osteoarthritis, but it could also be caused by an injury, or by an illness such as Lyme's disease. Your doctor can evaluate the cause of your pain, and create a treatment plan to alleviate your discomfort. Pain due to osteoarthritis can be relieved by exercises that strengthen supporting muscles, nutritional supplements, and in some cases, surgery. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that should be treated as early as possible. Chronic pain restricts your mobility and affects your posture, leading to more health problems, and prevents you from exercising and doing activities you enjoy.
Rapid changes in appearance – Aging is a gradual process. Sudden weight loss, hair loss, pallor, or sallow skin could be signs of declining liver function, heart disease, or a hormone imbalance.
Vaginal bleeding or blood in stool – These symptoms should receive medical attention right away. They could be signs of cancer.
Abnormal moles or skin lesions – Years of exposure to the sun can eventually lead to skin cancer. Many people get liver spots as they age, but moles that appear suddenly or change in appearance should be examined by a dermatologist.
Sudden changes in behavior, mood swings, aggressiveness, and irritability – These could be the first signs of dementia or Alzheimer's, or symptoms of depression.
Memory loss – Changes in cognition have many causes, including neurological problems. Memory loss and confusion are sometimes caused by an infection or illness. Being unable to recall important information like one's birthday or the day of the week is a symptom of dementia.
Losing teeth – As we get older , it is normal for teeth to darken and gums to shrink, but teeth loosening and falling out is a sign of serious inflammation.
Unusual fatigue – There could be many reasons why you suddenly feel tired all the time, including anemia or a thyroid problem.
Foot pain – Bunions, bone spurs, and plantar fascitis can make walking painful and interfere with normal activities.
It is important to have symptoms like these evaluated by your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to curing or managing many medical conditions that can lead to disability, immobility, and dependence on others. Your doctor can also provide resources to help you make lifestyle adjustments that will keep you happy, healthy, and safe.
What Is Normal Aging? Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas (http://agingcarefl.org/what-is-normal-aging)
Healthy Aging-Normal Aging. WebMD. (https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/tc/healthy-aging-normal-aging#1)
What Are the Signs of "Normal" Aging vs. “Abnormal” Aging? Kristin Davenport. (https://blog.episcopalretirement.com/marjorie-p-lee-blog/what-are-the-signs-of-normal-aging-and-abnormal-aging)
Health Information for Older Adults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/index.htm)