Which Conditions Are More Common As We Age?

Age-related diseases are illnesses and conditions that occur more frequently in people as they get older, meaning age is a significant risk factor. According to David Hogan, gerontologist, and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, examples of age-related diseases are:

Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. SPRINGER MEDIZIN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, and among the leading causes of death in many other countries. The most common form is coronary artery disease, which involves a narrowing or blockage of the main arteries supplying the heart with blood. Obstructions can develop over time, or quickly—as in an acute rupture—and cause potentially fatal heart attacks.

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Cerebrovascular Disease (Strokes)

A stroke happens when blood stops flowing in one area of the brain because of a disruption in one of the blood vessels. It is very serious because brain cells deprived of oxygen in the blood begin to die very quickly.

There are two types of strokes. The most common are called an ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel. The second type is called a hemorrhagic stroke, and is caused when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds in the brain.

Strokes can cause death or serious disability, depending on the location and severity of the blockage or rupture.

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High Blood Pressure - Hypertension

The risk for high blood pressure increases with age.
The risk for high blood pressure increases with age. Gale Beery/Getty Images

Blood pressure is the force blood exerts on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps. It's lower when you're sleeping or are at rest, and higher when you're stressed or excited — though it tends to rise generally with age. Chronically elevated blood pressure can cause serious problems for your heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other systems in the body.

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One of the biggest risk factors for many types of cancer, in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably, is age. According to the American Cancer Society, 77% of all cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 55. In Canada, cancer represents the leading cause of death for both men and women.

A number of types of cancer are more common as we age, including skin, breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, bladder, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and stomach cancers.

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Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a disorder that disrupts the way your body uses glucose, or sugar, from the food it digests. In Type 1 diabetes, which typically begins in people under the age of 30, no insulin is produced. The far more common Type 2 diabetes involves sufficient insulin—but an acquired resistance to it—so glucose is not processed properly by the body. Both types of diabetes lead to blood sugar levels that are too high, which can lead to serious problems like heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, kidney failure and blindness.

Thanks to rising rates of obesity, along with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition, Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. Fortunately, adopting healthier habits like regular exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet, can keep blood glucose levels in a normal range, and prevent declining health.

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Parkinson's Disease

Named after the British physician who first described it in the early 1800s, this progressive neurological disorder causes tremors, stiffness, and halting movement. Three-quarters of all cases of Parkinson's Disease begin after the age of 60, though age is only one risk factor. Men are more likely than women to get PD, as are people with a family history of the disease—or those who've been exposed to certain chemical toxins. Head injuries may also play a role.

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Dementia (including Alzheimer's Disease)

Characterized by a loss of brain functioning, dementia can manifest as memory loss, mood changes, confusion, difficulty communicating, or poor judgement. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, but there are a number of other causes, including vascular dementia (due to impaired blood flow to the brain), Huntington's disease, and dementia associated with Parkinson's Disease. While the incidence of dementia increases with age, it is not considered a natural part of the aging process.

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cannot be cured, but it can be treated, and perhaps more importantly, prevented. The condition is characterized by a reduction of airflow into and out of the lungs, thanks to inflammation in the airways, thickening of the lining of the lungs, and an over-production of mucus in the air tubes. Symptoms include a worsening, chronic and productive cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The main cause of COPD is chronic exposure to airborne irritants like tobacco smoke (either as a primary smoker or second-hand), occupational contaminants, or industrial pollution. Cigarette smoking remains the most significant risk factor.

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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, and the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs more commonly as people age, and it's more prevalent in women. Being obese or having had a prior joint injury also makes you more susceptible.

Characterized by swelling and pain in the joints, osteoarthritis cannot yet be cured, but it can be treated with pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medications, as well as through lifestyle modifications like weight loss, exercise, and physiotherapy.


Also known as "brittle bone disease," osteoporosis is characterized by bone mass loss, which leads to thinning and weakening bones. It gets more common with age, especially in Caucasian and Asian women. Having osteopenia, or low bone density, is also a risk factor. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as many as half of all women over the age of 50—and a quarter of men in that age group—will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Bone breaks like hip fractures are a very serious problem for older adults, resulting in a loss of mobility, independence, and in about a quarter of all cases, death within a year of the injury.

Regular weight-bearing exercise, eating a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D, and not smoking can all help prevent osteoporosis.

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A cataract is a progressive cloudiness in the lens of your eye, resulting from a number of factors, including exposure to ultraviolet light, smoking, and diabetes. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, half of all people over the age of 65 have some kind of cataract. Initially, you may not notice a cataract, but over time vision can become blurred and much reduced. Cataract surgery may be recommended to remove and replace the lens. Years ago, such surgery required several days' recovery in the hospital; now, it can be performed as an outpatient procedure, often in about an hour.

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Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common condition in adults over the age of 50, is the most common cause of blindness in older people. As the macula of the eye progressively deteriorates, so does a person's ability to see objects clearly in the center of his field of vision, though peripheral vision is usually preserved. Age is one risk factor, but so is smoking, race (Caucasians are more susceptible than African-Americans), and family history. Though the role of certain lifestyle habits is not fully understood, researchers believe that limiting tobacco use, regular exercise, maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and eating an anti-aging diet rich in colorful vegetables and fish will all help prevent AMD.

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Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is common with advancing age, thanks to the deterioration of tiny hairs within your ear that help process sound. It can mean simple changes in hearing, too, such as having difficulty following a conversation in a noisy area, having trouble distinguishing certain consonants (especially in higher-pitched voices), certain sounds seeming louder than usual, and voices seeming muffled. Several factors in addition to age, such as chronic exposure to loud noises, smoking, and genetics, can affect how well you hear as you get older. About half of all people over the age of 70 have some degree of age-related hearing loss.

How to think about Age-Related Diseases: While aging itself is not a disease, it is a risk factor for these different conditions. That doesn't mean you will have an age-related disease, it just means you are more likely to experience these conditions as you get older.

Physiological processes like inflammation, environmental exposure to pollutants and radiation (like ultraviolet radiation from the sun), the effects of lifestyle factors like smoking, diet and fitness levels, as well as simple wear and tear, can all accelerate the rate of decline in different people.

Many research projects around the world are underway to determine the effect of age on the human body, to sort out which conditions are an inevitable result of getting older and which can be prevented.

Read More: How a Longitudinal Study Gets Launched


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Cataract. US National Institutes of Health Medline Public Information Sheet. 

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Giuseppina Campisi, Martina Chiappelli, Massimo De Martinis, et al. “Pathophysiology of age-related diseases.” Immun Ageing. 2009; 6: 12.

Heart Diseases. US National Institutes of Health Medline Public Information Sheet. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseases.html

High Blood Pressure. US National Institutes of Health Medline Public Information Sheet. . http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html

Osteoporosis. US National Institutes of Health Medline Public Information Sheet.

Stroke. US National Institutes of Health Medline Public Information Sheet. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stroke.html

What is High Blood Pressure? US National Institutes of Health Public Information Sheet. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/

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