Fatigue is a common symptom, usually characterized by excessive tiredness and a generalized lack of energy. About 40-70% of US older adults experience fatigue in old age.
Let’s discuss the main signs, causes, and remedies of fatigue in the elderly.
How does fatigue present in old age?
In our elder years, we may have the following signs and symptoms of fatigue.
- Generalized anhedonia (lack of energy)
- Hypersomnolence (Excessive sleep at night)
- Extreme Tiredness
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Headache or vision problems
- Unintentional weight loss
- Gastrointestinal symptoms (Diarrhea, bloating, or constipation)
Moreover, mental fatigue can also present with psychological symptoms such as memory problems, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, anxiety, low mood or increased mood swings, and irritability.
Causes of fatigue in seniors
Fatigue can occur in the elderly due to many medical and non-medical causes, such as the following.
Anemia refers to the decreased hemoglobin levels in the blood. It is a common condition of the elderly, affecting almost 10% of older adults aged 65 or more. Due to decreased hemoglobin levels, blood oxygen capacity is reduced, leading to dizziness, tiredness, and weakness.
Dehydration is another common condition experienced in old age because of reduced kidney function in later years. It usually presents with fatigue and generalized weakness.
- Chronic Medical Diseases
Fatigue is also caused by many medical conditions, such as thyroid problems, diabetes mellitus, cardiac issues, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and hypercalcemia (increased serum calcium levels).
Certain medications like anti-hypertensive, antihistamine, antidepressant, and anti-diabetic drugs can also result in generalized weakness and fatigue. Furthermore, chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also cause fatigue.
- Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits
Unhealthy lifestyle habits are one of the main factors leading to chronic fatigue. These habits include excessive alcohol intake, junk food, caffeinated drinks, lack of physical activity, and late sleep.
Management of fatigue
The following measures can help manage and prevent fatigue in old age.
- Treat the underlying cause. If fatigue occurs due to another disease, try to control or resolve the condition.
- Be well-hydrated and drink plenty of fluids.
- Maintain a fatigue diary to find out the main patterns of fatigue.
- Keep good sleep hygiene and try to go to bed and sleep at the same time every day.
- Be physically active and exercise regularly.
- Follow stress-relieving techniques such as yoga and tai chi exercises.
Diagnostic tests such as complete blood profile, thyroid, kidney function tests, urine tests, etc., may be required if the symptoms do not subside in several weeks or become more severe.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) refers to fatigue that lasts six months or longer without any known cause or diagnosed condition. It usually presents with complaints of severe physical and mental fatigue that interferes with daily activities. Although there’s no cure for CFS, symptomatic treatments can provide some relief.
Fatigue commonly affects the elderly and presents with extreme tiredness, anhedonia, sleeping problems, and other associated symptoms. Anemia, dehydration, chronic medical illnesses, and unhealthy lifestyle habits are the leading causes of fatigue in old age. However, certain measures such as regular exercise, hydration therapy, fatigue diary, sleep hygiene, and stress relieving techniques can help manage fatigue in older adults.