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National Thyroid Awareness Month: Understanding Thyroid Disease in Seniors

January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, and it’s important to understand thyroid disease and the risk factors associated with it. Those over the age of 60 have the highest risk for thyroid disease, especially those who are female or have a family history of thyroid disease. 

The thyroid gland is a small but powerful organ that controls a variety of bodily functions. It regulates hormones that support metabolic rate, body temperature, digestive processes and more. A healthy thyroid keeps your body running optimally; however, when it becomes over or underactive, serious health issues can occur.

At Cass County Medical Care Facility, we specialize in long-term care and rehabilitation services for seniors. We understand that seniors may be at a greater risk for developing thyroid conditions due to their age, lifestyle choices and habits.

Let’s take a closer look at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of thyroid disease in seniors. 

Causes of Thyroid Disease in Seniors 

Thyroid disease in seniors is most commonly caused by an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks part of the body leading to inflammation of the thyroid gland. 

Other causes include Graves’ disease, increased iodine intake, surgery on the throat or neck area, radiation treatments, certain medications and certain inherited conditions. 

Symptoms of Thyroid Disease in Seniors 

The most common symptom of hypothyroidism (underactive) is fatigue which can lead to depression, memory problems and/or anxiety. Other symptoms include dry skin, weight gain, constipation and feeling cold all the time despite warm temperatures. 

Hyperthyroidism (overactive) may cause sudden weight loss, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, rapid or irregular heartbeat and tremors in hands or feet. It’s important that seniors know both sets of symptoms so they can recognize them early on if they present themselves.  

Diagnosis & Treatment for Thyroid Disease in Seniors

If you suspect that you may be suffering from any type of thyroid dysfunction then it’s best to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor will likely perform blood tests to determine your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) as well as other hormones such as triiodothyronine (T3). 

If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidsim then you will likely be prescribed medication such as levothyroxine which needs to be taken daily for lifelong management and treatment. For hyperthyroidsim, medication may include radioactive iodine therapy or antithyroid drugs; however these treatments may not cure hyperthyroidsim but only control its symptoms temporarily until it comes back again after a few months or years later.  In some cases surgery is needed to remove part or all of the affected gland(s).  

Lifestyle Choices That Can Help Mitigate Risk Factors  

With these small lifestyle changes seniors can help prevent developing more serious issues like goiter or even cancer due to untreated thyroid disorders over time.

  • Eat a balanced diet that includes foods rich in calcium such as yogurt and salmon 
  • Exercise regularly, aiming for 30 minutes per day 
  • Take supplements such as vitamin D3, which helps regulate hormone production 
  • Get enough sleep, aiming for 7-8 hours nightly 
  • Limit stress levels; practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises 
  • Avoid smoking; cigarettes contain substances that interfere with proper hormone production   
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol and processed food intake

If you’re over 60 years old then understanding what puts you at greater risk for developing thyroid dysfunction is key. While there is no one surefire way to prevent getting this condition altogether, making simple lifestyle adjustments such as eating healthy foods rich in calcium can help reduce your risk factors significantly over time when monitored properly by your healthcare provider.

Cass County Medical Care Facility offers long-term care services which specialize in treating elderly patients with various medical conditions including thyroid diseases. Recognizing any signs or symptoms early on can help get started on treatment sooner rather than later, so don’t hesitate if something feels off — get checked out today!