As we age, a number of circumstances – many beyond our control – help to determine what health issues we have a higher likelihood of facing. These can include family genetics, race, and gender.

Older women, for example, face higher likelihoods of developing osteoporosis, suffering a stroke, and developing rheumatoid arthritis.

But what leads to the formation of these health conditions, and what are some preventative steps you can take to minimize the risk of them occurring in the first place? We share some information below, and give some tips for treatment options to consider if you do develop any of these conditions. 

Remember, if you suspect you’re at a higher likelihood of developing any of the three conditions outlined below, reach out to your doctor. They will be able to assess your risk factors and outline steps for prevention or provide a diagnosis and tailor a treatment plan to fit your specific needs.

Osteoporosis 

According to the Mayo Clinic, osteoporosis is a condition involving the dramatic weakening of the bone that can lead to serious injuries. Women are up to four times more likely than men to develop this condition.

The Mayo Clinic notes that our bones are in “a constant state of renewal — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass by their early 20s.” 

Once this peak has been reached, our bones begin to lose bone mass quicker than it can be replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when a person did not develop sufficient bone mass in their youth and subsequently have less stores of bone mass to go through. Once the condition has developed in later years, patients present weak and brittle bones that, if subject to the right amount of stress, can develop painful and debilitating fractures. In serious cases, even movements as commonplace as coughing or bending over can cause injuries. These injuries most commonly occur in the spine, hip, and wrist.

Reducing risk

Though the development of osteoporosis is for the most part up to genetics, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing this condition. 

Vitamin supplements, a healthy diet, and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.

Healthy Women notes that high calcium and vitamin D intake for one can help fight diminished bone density. Calcium pills and a diet consisting of calcium-rich foods like milk, kale, yogurt, and broccoli can help with this. Regular exercise to improve balance and posture can also help ward off the development of osteoporosis. Walking and simple weight lifting exercises can go a long way to strengthening bone density.

Treatment

For those that do develop osteoporosis, the Mayo Clinic notes that a bone density test will be taken to determine how much bone you are likely to lose over the next 10 years. Once the severity level has been established, medicines known as “bisphosphonates” are likely to be prescribed. These are “antiresorptive” medicines, meaning they slow down the process that dissolves bone tissue. 

Estrogen may also be prescribed to help maintain bone density once women enter menopause. For older women, a drug called Raloxifene mimics the effects of estrogen but without the risks – such as blood clots, breast cancer, and heart disease – that can be tied to estrogen use.

Stroke

The American Stroke Association describes strokes as occurring when a “blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.” 

This leads to impaired functions, differing from individual to individual. If the portion of the brain affected by a stroke controls speech, for example, then an individual’s ability to speak is likely to be impaired. These attacks can also be fatal if essential motor functions like breathing are affected.  

The American Stroke Association notes that compared to men, women suffer more strokes and are more likely to lose their lives to the attacks. Luckily, up to 80% of strokes are preventable.

Reducing risk

Strokes in women are more common due to the usage of hormone drugs like birth control and postmenopausal medication; women who have gone through a pregnancy also have an increased risk. People who have already suffered a stroke are also more likely to suffer another one.

There are many steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of suffering a stroke in the first place. Avoiding high blood pressure and blood cholesterol through exercise and healthy eating habits can help, for one. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and salt. Breaking the habit of cigarette smoking can also greatly help reduce the risk of stroke, along with the proper treatment and monitoring of diabetes.

Your doctor will prescribe medicine if you suffer from any of the above health conditions to aide in the prevention of strokes. 

Treatment and rehabilitation

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts to prevent them, strokes can still occur without warning. After an initial hospitalization phase to ensure a person is steady and not at any immediate health risk due to complications from the stroke – including fever, increased pressure on the brain, and blood clots – an essential step in the road to recovery is a thorough rehabilitation process.

Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services’ Wesley Place specializes in neurological rehab, including stroke. In an ideal rehabilitation process, an older adult is evaluated to see what functions the stroke has affected, and a comprehensive plan is then built to fit their needs. If inpatient care is required, then an older adult will be cared for around the clock, receiving medical attention and rehabilitation including speech therapy and instruction to relearn how to perform daily activities like eating, getting dressed and housekeeping. Outpatient care includes similar therapies. Throughout the entire process, emotional support and stress management will be provided.

This is an incredibly difficult time for someone who has suffered a stroke. Imagine going to bed one day, waking up the next and suddenly being unable to speak – with no understanding as to why. Rehabilitation provides the medical treatment to regain as much of the independence lost ias possible, but more importantly, it provides the foundation to help patients through this difficult process.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused by a faulty immune system where your cells actually mistakenly attack your joints. RA is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans, 75% of which are women, the American College of Rheumatology reports. It affects the wrists and small joints in older women’s hands, which also includes middle joints of fingers and knuckles.

This disease often occurs between a women’s 40’s and 60’s, but can manifest itself at any time in life. 

Reducing risk

Unfortunately, the cause of RA is not yet known. As an autoimmune disease, it is currently believed that genetics play a huge role in who develops RA and who doesn’t. This means that there are no current sure-fire methods of prevention, other than early detection. If you are aware of a history of RA in your family and suspect you may be in the early stages of the disease, visit your doctor immediately. Early treatment can make a world of difference in lessening the effects and pain of RA.

Treatment  

Today, most treatments for RA allow individuals to live normal, healthy lives with minimal functions impeded by the disease.

The most common treatment involves the prescription of drugs. Your doctor will prescribe medicine strong enough to match the severity of the disease, while also holding yearly checkups to check on the progress of the disease. By regularly taking medicine, you should be able to live a healthy and functional life.

For those who’d like non-medicinal relief from RA, the Arthritis Foundation outlines a list of supplements that have shown some success in combating a variety of different types of arthritis. Some that have proven to be especially effective against RA include tumeric, which uses the chemical curcumin to reduce joint pain and swelling; cat’s claw, a vine that in a 2002 study “reduced joint pain and swelling by more than 50 percent compared with placebo”; and fish oil, which has been shown to significantly reduce joint stiffness and tenderness.

Along with supplements, women with RA can also look into massage, Tai Chi, and yoga as sources of relief, as all have shown to help with flexibility and provide relief for strained joints. These classes and services can be found in most regions. In Chicago, Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services provides regular yoga classes for older adults.

Always Ask

It is very important you seek medical treatment if you suspect you are at risk or in the early stages of developing any of these conditions. Talk to your doctor and share your concerns. Early treatment and prevention methods can help you either avoid these conditions entirely or minimize their effect on your life. 

Stay vigilant and listen to what your body is telling you. It’ll help you live a happier and healthier life.