Living with Autoimmune in Your 60s and Beyond
This is the final installment of our four-part series about life with autoimmune conditions during various age ranges, and here we examine such an existence for those who are in their 60s or older. For information about other decades of life with autoimmune, see posts about teen years, 20s and 30s, and 40s and 50s.
Since menopause has likely taken place and various infirmities may be present by this age, there are certain special considerations regarding autoimmune during these years, as detailed below. And once again, please note that while this article will focus on basic differences applicable to this age group versus others, a more comprehensive look at the basics of life with autoimmune conditions may be found in the first article, entitled “Living With Autoimmune in Your Teens”.
In terms of management of my autoimmune conditions during this period of my life (taking into account general health, diet and activity level, kids/no kids, hormones), what can I expect with regard to a) amount/intensity of symptoms, b) difficulty managing flares, and c) onset of additional autoimmune conditions?
At this point in life, general health and diet/activity level become that much more important in regards to disease symptoms and management. Patients in their 60s and beyond tend to have at least one or two health issues – count yourself as lucky if this is not the case – which makes maintaining good physical and psychological health a major priority, if a bit more difficult to attain than earlier in life.
Also, hormone levels will decrease significantly following menopause, which may have consequences if your particular condition has been associated with estrogen or other hormones. It is well recognized that menopause may impact autoimmune conditions, and vice versa, though such effects vary based on which conditions are being considered. A decent general review of menopause and autoimmune disease may be found at http://www.healthcentral.com/menopause/h/menopause-autoimmune-diseases.html, though the topics seem to be presented separately, despite the heading.
As to how such changes will affect your autoimmune diseases, it will depend on the specific conditions for which you carry a diagnosis. One thing that applies across the board though is that a healthy lifestyle involving diet and exercise is very likely to aid your symptoms in some beneficial way. How much or little will again depend on which disease we’re considering, but as a rule, these factors become increasingly important with age, and staying as fit as possible, physically and mentally, can often aid in symptom reduction (or at least minimal exacerbation).
As mentioned in earlier posts, flare management really remains a function of proper medication prescription and compliance much more so than age itself. Still, some medical conditions (especially liver or kidney illnesses, as these organs filter medications from the blood) may require a dose adjustment or change in meds, to accommodate your changing state of health. And in terms of additional autoimmune condition onset, most will have already presented earlier in life, though appearance of other autoimmune conditions is possible at any age, and increased in those who already suffer from one. For instance, autoimmune hepatitis has two separate common age ranges for onset (called a bimodal age distribution), one of which is approximately 55-70 years old.
How will managing my overall health, the number of children I have, and hormone balance/imbalance affect my symptoms in future decades?
As noted above, proper health management can become quite important during these years past age 60, with regard to symptom management, since a healthier body and mind will almost invariably respond better and faster to attempts at intervention. Therefore, it really can’t be overstated how much your general state of health can impact your symptoms and their control, for better or worse, depending on you.
Also, since certain autoimmune conditions have been associated with estrogen, and these levels will be reduced substantially post-menopause, it is important that you consult your doctor about any changes this may cause in disease presentation and/or treatment in the years to come. (One of the primary concerns in these situations is osteoporosis, though this is also disease-dependent.) Thankfully, the decision of whether or not to have kids, and how this might influence autoimmune symptoms and treatment, should at this point be a non-issue for most women.
Questions for your doctor:
- What are specific things I need to be concerned about during these years? How can I help you help me in this regard?
- How can declining hormone levels impact my specific disease(s)? Which hormones are most concerning/relevant? Is estrogen a factor in my condition? Is osteoporosis a concern?
- Do you know of any literature or support groups that cater to someone in this age range?
- How will being postmenopausal specifically affect my autoimmune conditions?
- If my symptoms become decidedly worse during this period, are there additional measures or meds that may be utilized, that weren’t an option during previous years?
- Which of my symptoms or meds, if any, might be impacted by my age? What changes can I expect?
- Are there any particular warning signs of age-related issues that I should heed? What should I do in these instances?
About the Author
Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians. After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full-time. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Dr. Rothbard, and first published on August 22, 2012.
Join our email list
Receive the latest blog articles, news, and more right to your inbox!
Related articles you might be interested in
Find more resources on autoimmunity
Learn more about autoimmunity, diagnosis tips, how to find a physician, and more.