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Preventing Misdiagnosed Illnesses in Older Adults

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  • Written By: Jessica Levin-Bozek, LPC
Preventing Misdiagnosed Illnesses in Older Adults

As we age, our bodies change and we can become more susceptible to specific health conditions. Oftentimes, diagnosing illnesses can be tricky because of overlapping symptoms and other age-related issues. Because of this, misdiagnosis is common among older adults and can have severe consequences including delayed treatment, unnecessary procedures and a decline in overall health. This is not what we want for ourselves or our loved ones.

The following common illnesses are frequently misdiagnosed in older adults. If you, or anyone you know, are experiencing symptoms related to these conditions, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional.

Heart disease: Heart disease is the leading cause of death among older adults but symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath can be mistaken for other health conditions, such as acid reflux or anxiety. Seniors can avoid misdiagnosis by discussing symptoms with their doctor and getting regular check-ups to monitor their heart health.

Depression: While a very common condition, depression is often overlooked in older adults. Tell your healthcare professional if you or someone you love is experiencing fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies and changes in sleep patterns that can sometimes be mistaken for typical signs of aging. And most importantly, know that seeking mental health support is just as important as taking care of your physical health.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs): UTIs are incredibly common in older adults. If symptoms include confusion, agitation and incontinence, they could be resolved quickly and easily by visiting your primary care doctor. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Avoid misdiagnosis by getting regular check-ups and reporting any signs of UTIs to your doctor immediately.

Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system and causes tremors, stiffness and difficulty with movement. All of these symptoms could be attributed to aging. If you believe your symptoms are more than normal signs of aging, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a neurologist who can perform a thorough evaluation and provide an accurate diagnosis.

Thyroid disorders: Thyroid issues like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause fatigue, weight gain and depression. These symptoms can also be attributed to normal aging or other health conditions. Avoid misdiagnosis by asking your doctor to test thyroid functions during routine check-ups.

Misdiagnosing common illnesses is a problem but it doesn’t have to be for you or your loved one. Protect yourself and practice self-care by scheduling regular check-ups. Be an advocate for yourself or bring a loved one to the appointment with you. Be honest and be heard. Open communication with a doctor, or seeking a specialist evaluation when necessary, can help ensure older adults receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

The Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS) Integrated Healthcare Centers are focused on educating individuals about preventative care and symptoms that can often be misdiagnosed in seniors.

essica Levin-Bozek, LPC

Jessica Levin-Bozek, LPC is the director of older adult programs at Jewish Family & Children’s Service. This article was originally published in Jewish News.