Fatigue is common amongst elderly people and while it’s rarely anything serious, it makes life difficult for them. They may lack the energy to perform basic activities, such as grocery shopping, home maintenance, and meeting with friends, and it’s very easy to get stuck in a cycle from which an escape seems impossible.
In this guide, we’ll look at the causes of fatigue in seniors, as well as some possible solutions.
Causes of Fatigue
The older you get, the more likely you are to experience issues like fatigue. At the same time, however, these issues are also more likely to be linked to something serious. It’s still a long shot, and most instances of fatigue will be caused by something that is relatively innocuous and easily treated. Regardless, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Consult with your doctor, tell them about your issues, and make sure you highlight any other symptoms that you have. They will run some tests to see if there is a serious cause.
Obviously, one of the causes is cancer. It’s something that has to be mentioned and something that your doctor will look to rule out, but more often than not, it will not be the cause, especially if it’s the only symptom.
The most likely causes of fatigue include:
Spending a lot of time sleeping, lying, and sitting can lead to feelings of fatigue. Ironically, these feelings of fatigue may stop you from being more active, and the only way to stop them is to be more active!
Your body and your mind get stuck in a rut. The good news, however, is that you can gradually claw your way out of this rut by introducing some gradual exercises into your day.
Take the time to stand, stretch, and walk around a little. If inactivity is the only cause, you may start to feel better straight away. Usually, though, there are other issues at play, including poor diet and depression, which we’ll touch on later in this list.
Anemia is a condition whereby your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, often as a result of an iron deficiency. Women are more likely to suffer from anemia and it’s also more common in older adults.
Speak to your doctor. They will run some blood tests to check for anemia and if this is determined to be the source of the problem, they will prescribe diet and lifestyle changes or an iron supplement.
If your diet is lacking in any of the following iron-rich foods, anemia may be the cause:
- Red meat
- Chicken and turkey
- Seeds and nuts
- Fortified soy milk
Iron isn’t the only nutrient linked to fatigue. Your body is a delicately balanced system that requires a series of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids to operate optimally. Some other nutrients associated with fatigue include:
- Vitamin B-12: A vitamin commonly found in animal products. B-12 deficiency is more common with vegan diets, but the addition of eggs and milk means it’s much less of an issue with vegetarians. Meat sources include fish and poultry, vegetarian sources include milk and eggs, and vegans can get B-12 from nutritional yeast.
- Magnesium: Found in leafy greens, including spinach, magnesium is also common in whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Unless you have a diet that is reliant on processed foods and contains minimal fruits and vegetables, it’s rare to be deficient in magnesium.
- Potassium: Found in many fruits and vegetables, including bananas, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and many dried fruits.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
CFS is a contentious disease, but one that doctors are increasingly recognizing. It doesn’t have an obvious cause, can present in different ways, and is largely unknown. However, it’s often diagnosed in individuals who have presented with more than 4 months of debilitating fatigue and do not present with another obvious cause.
Depression can occur following a bereavement, job loss, financial stress, and a host of other issues. It drags the sufferer down and presents with both psychological and physical symptoms, including fatigue.
If the depression is fleeting and related to a specific life event, as opposed to a clinical condition, it may pass in time and can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
One of the problems with depression is that sufferers don’t have the appetite for healthy food or exercise and often remain in bed or on the sofa for many days at a time. The fatigue becomes more pronounced and is difficult to remedy.
Changes in body composition, the signals that control thirst, and mobility, make dehydration one of the most common issues amongst seniors. It can be a sign of something more serious but is often down to a lack of fluids.
Chronic dehydration causes fatigue as the body needs that that water to function optimally throughout the day. If it’s not available, the muscles and organs suffer, leading to symptoms like fatigue, nausea, and more.
On the plus side, the fix is easy—simply drink more water!
Sedatives, analgesics, anti-depressants, antihistamines, and many other medications cause fatigue. This is true even if you’re only taking them in the evening, as they can stay in your system for many hours afterward.
Those medications were prescribed for a reason, so it’s important not to stop taking them. At the same time, if they are making life difficult for you, consult with your doctor and look for a solution that allows you to benefit from those meds without dealing with fatigue.
Treatments for Fatigue
The treatment is dependent on the cause. Medication can help, as can reducing current meds or switching things around. Your doctor may also prescribe supplements and lifestyle changes to put you on the right track.
What follows is a list of general treatments that may eliminate feelings of fatigue.
- Eating Well: A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients will provide your body with the fuel it needs and help to keep you strong and healthy.
- Minimize Alcohol Intake: Excessive drinking takes its toll on your body, leaving you tired the days following a binge. Reduce your intake to just one or two glasses a week and see if you notice any improvements.
- Exercise: You might not feel like going for a jog when you’re feeling fatigued, but small steps lead to big improvements. Go for a walk, do some stretches, swim—do something! As your symptoms improve, increase your activity level.
- Mindfulness: Taking the time to relax and become aware of your surroundings helps with anxiety, depression, and fatigue. It only takes a few minutes every time. Just sit, relax, and meditate—empty your mind.
Conclusion: Fatigue in the Elderly
As you can see, fatigue is very common in the elderly and there are a huge number of causes and just as many solutions. It’s something that can occasionally be fixed in just a few hours or a day, but something that may also require a concerted effort over several days or weeks.
In any case, make sure you speak with your doctor, run the necessary tests, and see if you can get to the root of the problem before you think about lifestyle and dietary changes.