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Thyroid Health for Seniors: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front of the neck. Its function is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body.

Published: Dec 14, 2016

Thyroid Health for Seniors:
Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Male Client and Male caregiver sitting at a table playing chessThe thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front of the neck. Its function is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.

Hyperthyroidism
As in all hyperthyroid patients, if there is too much thyroid hormone, it causes every function of the body to speed up. While younger persons often show multiple symptoms related to the overactive thyroid, a senior may only have one or two symptoms.

Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include: an increase in bowel movements, excessive perspiration, rapid heart rate, slight tremors, weight loss, fatigue, lack of mental clarity, confusion, nervousness, and agitation. Irregular heart rhythms and heart failure may occur in older patients.

Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is very common in seniors over the age of 60, and steadily increases with age. Studies show that up to 1 in 4 patients in nursing homes may have undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism symptoms are very non-specific in all patients, and this is especially true for seniors ─ and as with hyperthyroidism, the frequency of multiple symptoms decreases in older persons. For example, memory loss or a decrease in cognitive functioning, often attributed to advancing age, may be the only symptoms of hypothyroidism present.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism may include: fatigue, constipation, depression, hair loss, weight gain, low sex drive, muscle aches and stiffness, pale, dry skin, hoarse voice, a lack of mental clarity, forgetfulness, and fluid retention.

Diagnosis of Thyroid Disease
There are several methods used to diagnose thyroid disease, but blood tests usually are performed as an initial screening tool for determining hormone levels and thyroid function. Imaging tests are also commonly used, including thyroid scans using a radioactive iodine, and ultrasounds. If non-invasive tests are inconclusive or if tissues samples must be taken to determine cancer, a biopsy is performed.

Treatment of Thyroid Disease
Treatment for thyroid disease may vary, depending on the specific condition being treated and the physical condition of the senior. Talk to a doctor for his or her recommendations.

In the case of hyperthyroidism, an anti-thyroid medication may be prescribed, and steroids, Beta-blockers and anti-inflammatory medications, such as NSAIDs, may be given to reduce any inflammation.

If the thyroid gland is causing breathing or swallowing difficulties, a goiter is causing disfigurement, or if cancer is detected, radioiodine to shrink and destroy the gland may be used, or surgery may be required to remove part the thyroid ─ or the entire thyroid gland may be removed, followed with synthetic thyroid replacement.

Standard treatment for hypothyroidism involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine, an oral medication that restores adequate hormone levels, reversing the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. Treatment with levothyroxine is usually lifelong, but because the dosage needed may change, the doctor is likely to check the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level every year.

Thyroid Disease Prevention
Although thyroid disease can have much to do with genetics, not smoking, getting enough exercise, reducing stress, and proper intake of dietary iodine ─ through table salt, seafood, eggs, milk, whole grain breads, and kelp ─ may all help prevent thyroid disease.

Comfort Keepers® can help. Our caregivers, or Comfort Keepers®, can help establish a daily routine with your loved one that promotes good health and independent living. This includes helping to ensure that your loved one eats well and takes his or her medications in the correct dosage at the right times. Call your local office today to discover all of the services we offer.

References:
SeniorCare.org. “Thyroid Disease Among Senior Citizens.” Web. 2016.
American Thyroid Association. “Thyroid Disease in the Older Patient.” Web. 2016.
Thyroid Association of Canada. “Thyroid Disease in Late Life” by Leslie M.C. Goldenberg, M.D. Web. 2016.
Medscape. “Thyroid Disorders in Elderly Patients” by Shakaib U. Rehman MD; Dennis W. Cope MD;
Anna D. Senseney MD; and Walter Brzezinski MD. Web. 2016.
National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Hyperthyroidism” and "Hyperthyroidism.” Web. 2016.

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