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The Thyroid Gland as We Age: What Seniors Should Know
It’s common for older adults to experience feelings of fatigue, restlessness, and sadness – and often times, they may simply associate them with getting older, thinking that there is no solution in sight. To make things worse, family members may also be quick to assume that a loved one is experiencing age-related depression or problems with mental faculties. What you and your loved ones may not know, however, is that these symptoms may actually indicate a problem with the thyroid gland.
Understanding Thyroid Disorders
The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ that helps regulate metabolism through hormones (T3 and T4), goes through a number of changes as we age. Some of these changes are microscopic, while others are more physiological – but both can impact the release of the T3 and T4 hormones. If these hormones are not in balance, two disorders may arise:
- Hyperthyroidism: This disorder occurs when the thyroid is overactive in its production of hormones. Those with hyperthyroidism often experience excessive weight loss, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and constant anxiety. Hyperthyroidism can result from inflammation of the thyroid, pituitary gland malfunctions, or cancerous growths in the gland itself.
- Hypothyroidism: Significantly more common among older adults than hyperthyroidism, this disorder stems from a hormone deficiency. With a drop in hormone production, energy levels decrease, leading to extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, weight changes, and even muscle pain. Hypothyroidism can result from an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, exposure to iodide, and as a side effect from the drug lithium.
What Should Seniors Do?
If your aging loved ones experience any of the symptoms associated with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, encourage them to ask their physician for a thyroid evaluation. As mentioned, these symptoms can be similar to other age-related conditions, so it’s important that the thyroid is considered. A thyroid evaluation involves checking the gland and conducting a blood test that evaluates T3 and T4 levels.
Hypothyroidism is typically treated through hormone replacement therapy, while hyperthyroidism is treated with radioactive iodine (RAI), along with antithyroid drug therapy. Surgery may also be required for hyperthyroidism but is rarely recommended because of age-related risk factors. Treatment of both conditions should be carefully monitored by professionals so that adjustments can be made immediately.
Even if your aging loved ones are not currently experiencing these thyroid disorders, it’s important that they take steps to help reduce their risk. For hyperthyroidism, preventative measures include reducing stress, avoiding caffeine, and not smoking. For hypothyroidism, it’s recommended that you check for celiac disease/gluten intolerance, avoid fluoride whenever possible, and also ask for a thyroid collar when getting x-rayed.
Comfort Keepers® Can Help
Comfort Keepers is proud to provide compassionate, professional, in-home care to seniors and other adults. This includes everything from nutritious meal preparation to transportation to and from your loved ones’ preferred destinations. If they are faced with thyroid problems, our caregivers can work to make daily living more comfortable so that they are either making choices conducive to a smooth recovery or risk reduction. For more information about Comfort Keepers’ services, contact your local office today.
Only My Health. “Preventive Measure for Hyperthyroidism” by Vatsal Anand. Web. 2017.
Very Well. “Things You Can Do to Prevent A Thyroid Condition” by Mary Shomon. Web. 2017.
WebMD. “Understanding Thyroid Problems – The Basics” Web. 2017.
Medicine Net. “Thyroid and Aging – Helping to Keep the Golden Years Golden” by Ruchi Mathur, M.D. Web. 2017.