Glossary of Health Conditions and Diseases

Most older people are healthy, active individuals. However, a significant number of older people do have health problems, which cause them to require some assistance from family members in order for them to remain independent and at home. Below is a list of common health problems that affect older people. For more information on diseases check your local library or call one of the toll free telephone numbers listed in this book.


A temporary period of chest pain due to insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle. Usually due to hardening of the arteries. An attack can be brought on by certain exertion, cold, eating, or excitement. Stressful situations should be avoided. Pain can be controlled by medication.


Inflammation of the joints, tendons, or muscles. Cartilage, which protects the joints, is worn away and replaced by bone. Symptoms are pain and stiffness. There are over 100 types of arthritis. Some conditions are mild and others are severe. Medication or surgery can relieve symptoms.

For example, someone with arthritis may have bumpy looking knuckles or have trouble getting up out of a chair because of leg pain.

Alzheimer’s Disease

A disease that slowly destroys a person’s ability to remember things. Short-term memory is affected causing the person to become forgetful and confused. Often behavior can become irrational and scary because of the brain damage caused by the disease.

Alcoholism, Addiction

The inability to control consumption of alcohol or other drugs. Some older people use alcohol as "medication for pain" or to dull depressing thoughts. Misuse or combining alcohol and other drugs is a serious problems, especially when underlying health problems are not taken care of. People with chronic drinking problems are encouraged to look into a residential treatment center.


Cells that have gone berserk and are trying to take over the body. The bad cells are crowding out the good ones. There are many types of cancers and many different treatments.


When the clear lens of the eye loses its transparency and light cannot pass through it. Vision seems cloudy; it is especially hard to see in bright light. Cataracts can be like looking through a window smeared with petroleum jelly.


When the body can no longer turn sugar into energy. The pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Symptoms include itching, poor healing of wounds, blurred vision, loss of weight, and increased thirst. Diet and medication can control blood sugar levels.


Brain damage, which can change one’s ability to think, remember and reason. Persons with dementia may be confused and disoriented. They are unable to learn new information, and have a tendency to undergo personality changes. Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia.


(Lung Disease, Chronic Bronchitis) A disease which damages and destroys the lung tissue. The lungs no longer pass oxygen into the blood and carbon dioxide out of the blood. Smoking is a major cause of emphysema. Someone with emphysema may have to wear a mask and carry an oxygen tank to help them breathe.


A disease of the retina caused by increased fluid in the eye. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the aged. Symptoms are headaches, nausea, and seeing halos around lights. Glaucoma can be treated with medication and surgery.

Hearing Loss

Physical changes in the inner ear can cause hearing loss and communication problems. Older people may not be aware they have a hearing disorder therefore they may accuse people of not speaking clearly.


Loss of bowel or bladder control is not a disease, but a symptom. Incontinence could be caused by an infection or other medical condition. It is important to seek medical treatment because most causes of incontinence can be treated.

Heart Attack

When the flow of blood to the heart is interrupted or stopped, causing damage to the heart muscle.

Heart Disease

When fatty deposits build-up on the artery walls oxygen and nutrients cannot get through to the heart.

High Blood Pressure

When there is more force against the artery walls than is normal, putting stress on the body. High blood pressure can usually be controlled with diet, exercise and medication.

Kidney Disease

When the kidneys are no longer able to filter toxins out of the blood.

Periodontal Disease (Gum disease)

Affects the gums and bone that support the teeth. The gums become inflamed and underlying bone degenerates. Teeth can eventually become loose and fall out.

Parkinson’s Disease

A disorder of the brain that occurs when the nerve center is damaged. Causes stiffness, tremors, slowness and poor balance.


Localized damage to the brain caused by a sudden reduction in the brain’s blood supply. Depending on which side of the brain is affected a stroke can cause paralysis, loss of memory, loss of speech, and other mental changes. Recovery from a stroke is a process of relearning abilities which were lost.


A condition in which ringing, whistling, or buzzing occurs in the ears. Tinnitus adds to the distortion in communication that some elderly experience. It can be caused by many different things including ear disease.

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