Senior Health: 5 Health Signs You Should Never Ignore

Aug 21, 2018
Senior woman with a headache

Everyday aches and pains seem to escalate with age. With this consistent increase, it might seem like sickness is always knocking at the front door, causing many to become jaded to the discomfort. Oftentimes, that’s all right; the problem goes away. But some symptoms should never be ignored. Here are five health signs that require immediate attention from you and a physician:

1) Chest Pain or Tightness in Seniors

Perhaps the most well-known symptom of a health problem is chest pain, which can signal a heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, heart-related chest pain is often accompanied by shortness of breath, cold sweats, feelings of dizziness and/or weakness, or nausea and vomiting, and requires immediate medical attention.

In addition, a blood clot (or embolism) in the lung, inflammation of the pleural membrane around the lung (pleurisy), a collapsed lung, and pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries that supply blood to the lungs, can also cause chest pain. Like a heart attack, these conditions should receive immediate medical attention.

Other conditions that can also cause chest pain include problems with digestion, trouble swallowing, injured ribs, sore muscles (as with fibromyalgia), and costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage joining your ribs to your rib cage). In all cases, a visit to your physician can help you define and treat the condition.

2) Seniors Experiencing Headaches

We have all had a headache that starts out small and becomes more painful over time. Heads can ache for hundreds of reasons, and some may require immediate medical attention. According to, you should seek immediate medical attention if:

  • The headache is the worst you have ever had and interferes with daily life.
  • The headache begins soon after “activities such as weightlifting, aerobics, jogging, or sex.”
  • The headache comes on suddenly and is extremely severe.
  • The headache is accompanied by slurred speech, vision changes, confusion and/or memory loss, trouble with balance, or with moving your arms or legs.
  • The headache gets worse over a 24-hour period.
  • The headache is accompanied by “fever, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting.”
  • The headache is the result of a head injury.
  • The headache is “severe and just in one eye, with redness in that eye.”
  • The headache is the first like it you have had, especially if you are age 50 or older.
  • The headache is accompanied by “vision problems and pain while chewing, or weight loss.”
  • The headache is new and you have a history of cancer.
  • You have a compromised immune system due to disease or medications.

3) Sudden Weight Loss in Seniors

It can sometimes seem like the whole world is on a diet, but if you seem to be losing weight without trying or wanting to, there may be something else going on. If you lose 10 pounds (or 5 percent of your normal body weight) in fewer than six to 12 months, you should consult a medical professional immediately. Here are some reason for sudden weight loss to consider:

  • Loss of appetite due to stress, anxiety or depression; cancer (even with no other symptoms); chronic infections like AIDS or chronic illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); medications like chemotherapy drugs; or abuse of drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine.
  • Chronic digestive system problems like diarrhea, parasitic infections, chronic pancreatic swelling or infection, small intestine removal, or laxative overuse.
  • Undiagnosed conditions, including diabetes, eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, or an overactive thyroid gland.

4) Poor Wound Healing in Seniors

As we age, our skin collagen and elastic tissue ages too. Aging skin can often hinder healing (which requires collagen) and may scar more easily due to loss of elasticity. But when a wound does not heal, it can be a red flag that something more than aging is going on.

A chronic wound is a wound or sore that doesn’t heal within three months, even though it may scab-over time and time again. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the three main categories for chronic wounds each have specific causes:

  • Diabetic ulcers occur in people with diabetes (diagnosed or not) and are especially dangerous because even a small wound can lead to amputation. Foot wounds require immediate medical attention because diabetics lose feeling in their feet and may not realize they have a wound. In addition, poor circulation in the legs also inhibits healing and a diabetic’s lowered ability to fight infection further complicates the problem. Always seek immediate medical attention for a new wound or a wound that won’t heal.
  • Venous leg ulcers are another form of slow-healing wound that occur when legs swell with fluid, impeding return blood flow and slowing the healing process. A physician should be consulted to manage these wounds, minimize swelling and avoid infection.
  • Pressure ulcers occur when the same area of the body is under pressure for long periods of time, as with someone who is bedridden or wheelchair-bound. These can be minimized or eliminated by regular repositioning and specially-designed cushions and mattresses.

5) Dizziness in Seniors

Getting a little dizzy when on a carnival ride or twirling around is a fun part of being alive. Getting dizzy when standing up, walking or moving your head can be worrisome if it persists. Although most episodes of dizziness pass, sometimes dizziness can be a sign of something that requires medical attention. The Mayo Clinic cites several circumstances when dizziness accompanied by other symptoms or injuries means it’s time to call 911 or hurry to the nearest emergency department. These symptoms include:

  • “A sudden or severe headache.
  • Ongoing vomiting.
  • A sudden change in speech, vision or hearing.
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking.
  • Fainting.
  • Chest pain or an irregular heart rate.
  • Numbness or weakness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • A high fever.
  • A very stiff neck.
  • A head injury.
  • Seizures”

Anytime you experience symptoms that you have never had before, are very sudden, or are extremely painful, do not procrastinate about seeking medical care. Even slow-moving health problems like poorly healed wounds need medical attention to avoid complication. No matter what the condition or symptom, it’s always better to be safe with your physician’s care than sorry without it.

If you have questions about short- or long-term care for a loved one, call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.


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