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6 Common Autoimmune Diseases in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

What do lupus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn’s disease have in common? They’re all autoimmune conditions.

This means that they’re not infectious and not caused by bacteria or viruses. Rather, these diseases occur when the body’s own immune system – which is meant to defend against infection – gets confused and attacks parts of the patient’s own body instead.

Maintaining good health and keeping up with medication and treatment regimes is important for anyone with an autoimmune disease, but for elderly patients it’s even more important.

One reason for this is that some medications for autoimmune conditions reduce the patient’s resistance to infections like colds, which can be more harmful for the elderly. Another is that some of the most common autoimmune conditions may bring special concerns for the elderly. For example, elderly people with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus may struggle with stability and can be at risk for falls.

Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition as an older person? If so, we’re here to help. This autoimmune disorders list explores some common conditions in the elderly. You can also take a look at our guide to symptoms of autoimmune diseases in the elderly.

Rheumatoid arthritis in the elderly

Rheumatoid arthritis is the second-most common type of arthritis, and it’s one of the most common autoimmune diseases in the elderly. Unlike osteoarthritis, which isn’t an autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the patient’s own immune system attacking their joints.

Older people who have rheumatoid arthritis may experience pain, swelling, inflammation, warmth and stiffness in the joint. In particular, stiffness for a long time in the morning is a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis.

An elderly person who’s been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis may be prescribed steroids or medications called DMARDs, biological treatments or JAK inhibitors. Lifestyle changes are also often helpful to older people with rheumatoid arthritis. This could include using tools to prevent strain on joints, using a cane, or obtaining a personal alarm in case of falls at home due to a lack of stability.

See our elderly person’s guide to living well with arthritis for more tips.

Sjögren's syndrome in the elderly

Sjögren's syndrome is a condition you might not have heard about as much as some of the most common autoimmune diseases. It’s more often seen in older people because it usually begins between age 40 and 60.

In Sjögren's syndrome, enough fluid isn’t produced in parts of the body like the mouth and eyes. As a result, symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome include dry mouth, dry eyes and dry skin, as well as some other symptoms like painful joints or tiredness.

Treatments for Sjögren's syndrome usually address these symptoms rather than the root cause. For example, elderly people with Sjögren's syndrome may find that their doctor recommends eye drops, mouth sprays or skin moisturisers. Additionally, hydration is always important for elderly people, but it’s especially important for seniors with Sjögren's syndrome as water helps keep the mouth healthy when it’s dry.

Temporal arteritis in the elderly

Temporal arteritis is a type of giant cell arteritis, which occurs when arteries in the head swell. Both conditions are usually seen in older people.

In temporal arteritis, arteries in the temples of the head are affected. This can cause pain in the temples. Other possible symptoms of giant cell arteritis or temporal arteritis are severe headaches, jaw pain, loss of vision or double vision.

If you’re concerned you might have temporal arteritis or giant cell arteritis, seek help right away. Severe health impacts like strokes can result if these conditions aren’t treated urgently. See the temporal arteritis NHS page for more information.

Lupus in the elderly

A type of arthritis, lupus is a condition that affects the entire body.

Like many other common autoimmune diseases, lupus can cause feelings of tiredness or being unwell. Other symptoms may include joint pain, a butterfly-shaped rash over the nose and cheeks, pain in the chest or head, hair loss, weight loss or a number of other symptoms.

This is one reason it’s difficult to diagnose – these symptoms can be signals of many other diseases, particularly in the elderly, who may often experience joint pain or swelling, tiredness or weight loss.

Treatments for lupus include steroids and some medications that suppress the patient’s immune system. Doctors may also recommend that patients take anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in the elderly

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are conditions within the umbrella term of inflammatory bowel disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease happens when a patient’s immune system attacks their bowel. This can cause pain, tiredness, weight loss and extensive diarrhoea. Treatments include steroids or other medications.

These conditions have usually been thought of as appearing in early adulthood. However, a scientific study in the US in 2021 found that inflammatory bowel disease was increasingly being diagnosed in older people.

Getting good nutrition is important for anyone with inflammatory bowel disease. But it’s especially important for elderly people, since it can be difficult for seniors to get the right nutrition that they need.

Multiple sclerosis in the elderly

The last condition on our autoimmune disorders list is multiple sclerosis.

This is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the protective covering around the nerves, causing damage. In addition to tiredness and vision problems, multiple sclerosis often causes difficulties with moving the body, such as problems with balance and stiffness.

A wide range of treatments are used to help the varying symptoms of multiple sclerosis. These include steroids, physiotherapy and a variety of other medications.

Although multiple sclerosis is more often diagnosed in early or mid-adulthood, it can often be a progressive condition that worsens with age. This means that seniors with multiple sclerosis may need particular help with staying safe while being mobile.

A mobile alarm with GPS tracking can be a great solution for an older person with multiple sclerosis while they’re out and about. If a fall does happen, the wearer can get help no matter where they are.

Peace of mind for elderly people with autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune conditions in the elderly can vary widely in their severity and symptoms. But what’s true for all of these common autoimmune diseases is that lifestyle changes can be a big help in allowing the patient to live well.

SureSafe’s high-quality and affordable personal alarms for the elderly can be as discreet as a wrist alarm that looks like a smart watch. But they offer 24/7 monitoring, ensuring that seniors with autoimmune conditions will always be able to call for help when they need it – whether they need help with a fall or a different sudden health need.

With 4.8 out of 5 stars on reviews.io, SureSafe’s personal alarms for the elderly are a trusted companion to help elderly people with autoimmune conditions enjoy their best life with peace of mind. Want to know more? Call our expert team on 0800 112 3201. You can also get in touch via live chat or request a call back.

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