Age is unkind to most people. While the young can boost their energy with a good night’s sleep and moderate exercise, older adults can feel their bodies betraying them.
Fatigue in older adults is a common theme for those later in the aging process. Too common.
Many healthcare professionals miss the warning signs of chronic fatigue, mistaking it for a lesser condition.
While feeling tired is a natural part of getting older, this lack of energy, especially if it lasts for weeks, can affect daily living and the overall well-being of many elderly patients.
It would be best if you didn’t have to live with chronic fatigue syndrome or any other form of fatigue. Daily tasks and physical activity should not be impossible, and life should not be a burden.
Let’s go over some of the most common causes of fatigue in older adults, how to treat them, and ensure a better quality of life even while aging.
What Causes Extreme Tiredness in the Elderly
Fatigue is often defined as tiredness, lack of energy, and an inability to go through life due to weakness and a lack of motivation. It can lead to emotional stress and even social isolation.
However, significant fatigue is often a symptom of other medical conditions that can’t be blamed on the aging process.
Crashed energy levels manifest something else your body is going through.
Let’s go through some of the many diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis) that can be considered the root cause of ongoing fatigue and some of the main symptoms they bring.
Doctor-prescribed medication meant to deal with other sicknesses like nausea and pain medicine, antidepressants and antihistamines can make you feel tired, lethargic, and sleepy.
These medications work by altering your brain’s neurotransmitters, changing your mood, leaving you tired, and in some cases, leading to blurred vision, dry mouth and weight gain.
Aside from altering your brainwaves, some medications like blood pressure also slow your heart down.
It would be best if you were careful when using medicines that can cause drowsiness and sleepiness.
If your medicines cause you to experience fatigue, avoid driving and other strenuous activities while on them. Take them before bed if possible and take a nap or work out to get more energy.
Certain medical treatments like radiation therapy and cancer treatment severely decrease the number of red blood cells in the body, which leads to anemia. This leads to a lack of oxygen.
When the body is deprived of oxygen, the tissues experience fatigue. This is an unfortunate side effect of therapy meant to kill cancer cells, as it also takes healthy cells away in the process.
While unfortunate, treatment-induced fatigue is temporary in that it shouldn’t go past six months during or after treatment.
The best thing to do is deal with fatigue as part of the treatment.
Sometimes, it’s not the treatments themselves that lead to fatigue. Rather, the stress and inability to sleep can be brought about by dreading these treatments that cause pain and worry.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
While fatigue is often a symptom of a deeper ailment, it can also be a condition all on its own.
The Center for Disease Control defines chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as a disorder involving extreme fatigue over 6 months with no other underlying cause. It can leave you exhausted and miserable.
Several symptoms can cause CFS, but none are the definitive catch-all origin point. These include viral infections, hormonal imbalances, immunodeficiencies, and trauma.
While there is no clear cause that you can pinpoint when discussing chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s important to note how serious it can get.
It can affect memory, cause physical pain, and enlarged lymph nodes.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Like kidney disease and heart disease, COPD is a chronic illness that can make day-to-day existence a Herculean task. This disease, in particular, is capable of knocking the wind out of your lungs.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a sickness that reduces airflow to your lungs and, therefore, oxygen to your bloodstream, making you lightheaded, lethargic, and even lifeless.
You will feel COPD hit when fatigue is combined with cough, mucus in the lungs, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and wheezing. It will leave your lungs and you weak.
If you decide to take smoking into old age, quit. Choose to live a healthier lifestyle with a balanced diet and better cardiovascular health, and you may recover your energy in the process.
Fatigue in the daytime can often be attributed to how well or poorly you slept.
Shallow breathing that can turn into the start-stop breathing pattern of sleep apnea can leave you exhausted before waking up.
It doesn’t help that fatigue and sleep apnea shares the same target demographic (older, heavier, smokers and those with allergies).
This shallow breathing to stopped breathing leads to daytime fatigue, like sleep, the one surefire way of defeating tiredness and exhaustion, no longer seems to help.
You will need to invest in a CPAP machine to not worry about sleeping.
Fatigue isn’t just a physical issue based on the neurotransmitters, heart, lungs and bloodstream.
It is even found in how we respond to things out of our control. Stress drains energy more than physical activity in some cases.
Depression, anxiety, worry about the future, grief, and out-of-control finances leave people miserable and drained. These can lead to sleepless nights and troubled days.
What’s worse is this wellspring of negative emotions leaves you tired but restless. This causes you to lack sleep, which leads to bad moods and worsening negativity.
It’s important to keep your stressors in check to stand a chance against the fatigue plaguing you.
Lifestyle Causes of Fatigue
Sometimes, fatigue is caused by things within our control that we refuse to control. Things that our bodies could handle earlier are now paying back in dividends. The consequences have arrived.
Drinking too much caffeine now has the opposite effect. Like drinking too much alcohol and eating fried foods, caffeine will only make you tired.
This lethargy also leads to joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis.
Living a sedentary lifestyle has now come back to haunt you. A lack of exercise has left you feeling down as if gravity has made you twice as heavy.
Unfortunately, the only solution is to become healthy.
Sudden Extreme Fatigue in Elderly Patients
Most people understand feeling fatigued to be temporary. It builds over time, and either disappears after some sleep or becomes a problem to consult your doctor about.
This is not always the case.
Sudden extreme fatigue is a form of fatigue that quite literally drains the life out of you.
It goes beyond making you feel tired or wanting to sleep. It weighs you down and makes it impossible to move.
Let’s go over some of the causes of sudden extreme fatigue, such as lifestyle changes or medical conditions, and what underlying cause you should identify with your doctor.
Anemia is a deficiency in blood iron that prevents red blood cells from carrying oxygen across the body. It quickly leads to fatigue, as muscles do not get the fuel to move.
Anemic people experience difficulty concentrating, irritability, pale skin, light-headedness and shortness of breath. It can even give older people chest pain and cause them to retain fluids.
You will need to eat more iron-rich food or take iron supplements. Consult your doctor if these symptoms are combined with heart problems or depression.
Doctors can see fatigue as one of the symptoms of heart disease if it becomes an inescapable part of your day. Your fatigue will require medical attention once you experience chest pain and more.
If left untreated, seemingly-simple fatigue can turn into heart attacks or stroke.
You will need to strengthen your heart by eating right, exercising, taking short naps, and complying with your maintenance medications.
Your doctor may be recommending medications that can hit you like a truck.
These include chemotherapy and cancer treatments, dialysis, cholesterol treatments, tranquilizers and even antibiotics that can bring you down.
In cases where your medicines leave you knocked out like you just fought 12 rounds with a boxing world champion, be sure to consult your doctor to see how you can reformulate your stack.
Old age means less sleep to feel the same amount of energy. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t rest 6.5 hours a night or more. You will still feel fatigued if you do not get quality shut-eye.
An older person usually feels tired for various reasons, like overactive bladders, causing them to make multiple trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
You can solve this by sleeping early, investing in quality mattresses, and taking pills.
Depression and Anxiety
It bears repeating that depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can crash your energy levels.
If your children have moved out and had kids of their own, or your dear friends have started to pass away, that can cause you to feel isolated and lonely, leading to a lack of motivation and movement.
Make time for socializing. Find an activity you can enjoy doing alone or with like-minded people and stay sharp. This, combined with medication, will keep you up for a long time.
How Do You Treat Fatigue in the Elderly?
The good news is that fatigue is treatable, if not avoidable. There are plenty of natural solutions to fatigue that are effective and reliable.
The key is to stay consistent and take care of your body.
Here are some of the most effective ways of treating fatigue that works wonders for the elderly and the youth if needed.
Good Night’s Sleep
Get enough sleep. This is the number one way to ensure that you don’t feel tired when you wake up. Sleep early. Relieve yourself and drink enough fluids long before you go to bed.
Sleep as much as you need to at night and take short naps to beat the energy gap and keep on.
Aging should not be an excuse not to exercise while aging. If you want to live long and continue to have the energy for your family and friends, don’t be afraid to pick up a dumbbell or two.
Include more walks and lightweight training into your daily schedule.
This boosts your cardiovascular endurance and muscle development and releases chemicals that make you happier.
It’s a popular saying among gym-goers that abs are built in the kitchen.
While your training days for Mr. Olympia are over, you will still need to get rid of the fried foods and increase your exercise.
Weight gain increases fatigue because you have to carry around more weight, wreaking havoc on your joints and causing your lungs to work harder.
Make bodily processes easier on your organs by getting rid of fat. Eat right and invest the time and effort to develop your health.
Curing Fatigue, Elderly Treatments
Treating fatigue is not as intimidating or confusing as it seems. It doesn’t take a doctor to treat the symptoms when tired.
Here are a few more tips for treating fatigue in the elderly, boosting their energy levels, and keeping them happy, healthy and active.
Physical Exam and Lab Tests
Older adults can undergo several lab tests to determine what is causing their fatigue. These include the fatigue blood and urine test and an all-in-one test.
These tests allow you to check if you have CFS and monitor your bodily functions and levels needed to make sure you can stay upright throughout the day.
It will tell you when something’s out of wack.
While tests may get pricey, they are a small price to pay to find out what is wrong and how to fix it.
Keep a Fatigue Diary
Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step in solving it. The next step is to break it down to determine how bad it is. This is where a fatigue diary comes in.
A fatigue diary is fairly simple.
It’s a log that allows you to keep track of your activities for the day, how tired you feel at certain times, and how many hours of sleep you need to be considered a good night’s sleep.
It makes it easier to work with your doctor when they can trace what you were doing that caused you to feel tired, and it also allows you to choose which activities to dial in on.
While the best solutions for fatigue are natural lifestyle changes, chronic fatigue may need additional medication to give you a better chance of living free.
Certain medicines like Fludrocortisone help relieve dizziness and light-headedness caused by CFS. Antihistamines, which cause drowsiness, can help you sleep better at night.
Take what your doctor recommends to give you a deeper rest at night, as this will give you back your energy and allow you to function the way you want to.
Reduce Alcohol Use
People who carried drinking or binge drinking into late adulthood are often too set to give up one of their favorite crutches. Unfortunately, their bodies have given them no choice.
An easy yet effective way for older adults to get rid of fatigue is to put the bottle and the cigarette down.
Allow your liver, kidney, and lungs to recover after all the abuse you put them through.
This sudden sacrificing of earthly vices will allow you to live longer, fuller and healthier, free from the fatigue that has shackled you for the longest time.
Aging shouldn’t have to feel like a death sentence. While your energy levels will decrease, fatigue is avoidable with enough care, the right habits, and good amounts of restful sleep.
Should your exhaustion go on for weeks with no end in sight, leading to depression, anxiety and physical pain, consult your doctor to fight fatigue and keep your energy levels up.