Most prevalent chronic conditions in American seniors
In some ways, life becomes easier as people age—post-retirement is called the “golden years” for a reason, after all. But one thing many stop taking for granted is health. Research from the National Council on Aging shows that the top concerns among older adults are maintaining physical health, fighting memory loss, and prioritizing mental health. Staying fit and healthy is important throughout life, but especially when aging. Many chronic conditions are more likely to strike later in life, whether because of genetics, environments, or the realities of getting older.
Why is this important? The elderly population is growing, with about 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day. The good news is that even if certain chronic conditions are inevitable among seniors, there are often ways to treat and manage them to maintain a high quality of life.
What chronic issues are most common? This ranking of the top conditions for those aged 65 and older is based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which looked at enrollment claims for those in the fee-for-service program. Stacker has you covered with information on each health issue, symptoms, treatments, and resources especially for older patients.
#19. Autism spectrum disorders
National prevalence among seniors: 0% (Men: 0%, Women: 0%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: N/A
As many know, the autism spectrum includes a wide range of symptoms and severity. Some commonalities include difficulty communicating and interacting socially, narrow interests, and repetitive behaviors. It can be difficult to diagnose ASD among the elderly because symptoms may appear to overlap with other conditions. Still, though the first symptoms of ASD typically appear in infants, it’s a lifelong disorder and can go undiagnosed until later in life. Because it’s difficult for many seniors to find the motivation to leave the house and be social—regardless of disorders, it’s imperative for those on the spectrum to find ways to manage their symptoms through medication and/or therapy. Assistive technology can also help with tasks around the home, managing prescriptions, and more.
Note: Although ASD is prevalent enough to be included in this dataset, the overall prevalence of autism nationwide and in each state is either lower than 0.1% or cannot be calculated due to insufficient data.
National prevalence among seniors: 0.1% (Men: 0.2%, Women: 0%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (0.9%), California (0.2%), New York (0.2%)
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system by destroying the white blood cells that are key for immune health and, if untreated, leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Though an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was once considered a death sentence, millions live with HIV today, managing their health through medications that lower the amount of the virus in the body and improve immune responses. It’s important to begin treating HIV/AIDS as soon as possible after diagnosis—without treatment, AIDS can be a gateway for serious opportunistic diseases, such as cancers, fungal infections, and tuberculosis. Because HIV can advance quickly in older patients, they should be regularly screened by their doctor for health changes.
#17. Hepatitis (chronic viral B & C)
National prevalence among seniors: 0.4% (Men: 0.5%, Women: 0.3%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (1.6%), California (0.9%), New York (0.7%)
Though 72,000 Americans develop viral hepatitis each year, the disease can progress to a lifelong condition, which can lead to serious liver damage, liver cancer, and even death. Vaccines are available for prevention. Adults with chronic conditions should visit their doctor several times a year to have their condition monitored and may be prescribed immune modulator or antiviral drugs. For those with hepatitis C, a two- to three-month course of anti-retroviral medications can often cure the disease entirely.
#16. Schizophrenia/other psychotic disorders
National prevalence among seniors: 2.5% (Men: 2.1%, Women: 2.8%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (3.6%), Louisiana (3.4%), West Virginia (3.4%)
In Hollywood films, schizophrenia is associated with hallucinations and delusions, but this chronic disorder includes a wide spectrum of behavior and symptoms, from trouble focusing to reduced feelings of pleasure. While most people experience the onset of schizophrenia in their early 20s, about a quarter of patients experience it during middle age. Antipsychotic medication, psychosocial therapy, and specialized coordinated care might be appropriate depending on the individual, though antipsychotic medications are usually used in a lower dose for seniors because of their physical side effects. Often, elderly patients with schizophrenia may find that their mental functioning improves or that their schizophrenia goes into remission, though the reasons why this happens are not well understood.
National prevalence among seniors: 4.2% (Men: 4.2%, Women: 4.2%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: District of Columbia (5.3%), Delaware (5.2%), Louisiana (5.1%)
The likelihood of suffering from a stroke doubles every 10 years starting at age 55. What causes a stroke? Interrupted or reduced blood flow to the brain, caused by a blocked artery, a burst blood vessel, or another issue that deprives tissue of oxygen and kills brain cells. Symptoms come on fast and the tell-tale signs include trouble speaking, paralysis on one side of the body, blurry vision, headache, vomiting, and trouble walking. Those experiencing symptoms of stroke need to call 911 immediately—any delay could lead to serious brain damage or death. Health management after a stroke may include taking prevention medication and improving their overall health. Support groups also welcome those experiencing lasting effects.
National prevalence among seniors: 6.7% (Men: 1.5%, Women: 10.9%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Puerto Rico (10.9%), Hawaii (9.6%), Florida (8.7%)
Osteoporosis is a bone-density disease that causes bones to become weak and porous; in severe cases, something as minor as a sneeze or bumping into furniture can cause a break. For many, osteoporosis medications paired with calcium, vitamin D, low-impact exercises, and a well-balanced diet can help manage the disease. The National Osteoporosis Foundation facilitates support and education groups throughout the U.S.
National prevalence among seniors: 7.6% (Men: 6.4%, Women: 8.6%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (9.5%), West Virginia (9.5%), Rhode Island (9.5%)
Though the stereotypical asthmatic is a kid struggling through gym class with an inhaler in hand, this condition is common among people of all ages. Asthma causes swollen airways, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and more. Though it can’t be cured, asthma can be managed by avoiding triggers such as pollen or mold, taking asthma medication, and using inhalers when necessary. Asthma can develop at any point in life. Because seniors with asthma are more likely to develop respiratory failure during asthma attacks, they should regularly visit their doctor to discuss their plan during such an attack and ensure that the drugs they’re taking for other conditions aren’t worsening their condition.
National prevalence among seniors: 8.9% (Men: 10.2%, Women: 7.9%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Florida (10.5%), Rhode Island (10.4%), New Jersey (10.3%)
Cancer, a disease caused by abnormal cells multiplying out of control, can begin anywhere in the body. There are many types of cancer and each has different treatment options—from surgery and chemotherapy to radiation therapy—depending on the stage that the cancer is in, the location of the cancer, and sizes of any tumors. Cancer has become more prevalent as people live longer—more than 60% of new cancer diagnoses are among those over the age of 65. Fortunately, treatments are also better than ever, especially for elderly patients. There are support groups, treatment centers, and specialized oncology clinics available throughout the country.
#11. Atrial fibrillation
National prevalence among seniors: 9.3% (Men: 10.5%, Women: 8.4%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Connecticut (12%), Massachusetts (11.2%), Pennsylvania (10.9%)
Atrial fibrillation, an irregular and typically rapid heart rate, can cause heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues. Those experiencing symptoms, including heart palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and chest pain, should see their physician. Depending on the severity and the patient’s condition, doctors may administer an electric shock to “reset” the heart’s rhythm, perform surgery, or prescribe specialized medications.
#10. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
National prevalence among seniors: 11.2% (Men: 11.4%, Women: 11%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Kentucky (16.3%), West Virginia (16%), Oklahoma (13.8%)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease, which results in breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and increased mucus production. The primary cause is long-term smoking, especially among those with asthma. Doctors say the first path to treatment is to quit smoking. From there, there are myriad treatments, from oxygen therapy and steroids to medication and inhalers, to surgery for severe cases. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is largely underdiagnosed in seniors, so those with symptoms should speak with their doctors about getting tested.
#9. Alzheimer's disease/dementia
National prevalence among seniors: 11.3% (Men: 9.2%, Women: 13.1%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Puerto Rico (15.4%), District of Columbia (15.3%), Connecticut (13.2%)
“Dementia” is a catch-all term for the loss of memory and reasoning. Alzheimer’s, a specific disease caused by protein “plaque” and fiber “tangles” built-up in the brain, is the most common type, accounting for 60–80% of all dementia. The majority of those with Alzheimer’s are over the age of 65, and the disease progresses over time. Medication can slow the progression, but everyday accommodations should be made to help cope with inevitable memory loss. This might include buying a cellphone that can track one's location or keeping a white-board schedule to make sure they're keeping up with daily tasks. The National Institute on Aging has free information and print publications about Alzheimer’s for patients and caregivers.
National prevalence among seniors: 14.1% (Men: 9.6%, Women: 17.6%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Rhode Island (17.5%), Maine (17.2%), Massachusetts (17.1%)
Many seniors feel anxious or upset after the death of a loved one, a medical diagnosis, or other major life changes. However, depression is a lasting mental health concern. It often occurs in conjunction with illnesses later in life, such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease, and can be brought on as a side-effect of some medications. Depending on the severity and the cause of the depression, there are several treatment methods, ranging from antidepressant medication to therapy. Seniors with depression might consider joining a support group, or even a book club or walking club, which provides accountability for getting out of the house and staying active.
#7. Heart failure
National prevalence among seniors: 14.3% (Men: 14.7%, Women: 14%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Michigan (17.3%), Louisiana (16.9%), Oklahoma (16.9%)
Shortness of breath, swelling in limbs, irregular heartbeat, foamy and pink mucus, and rapid weight gain are all concerning symptoms, especially when considering they’re signs of heart failure. While there are a number of causes, heart failure typically occurs after other conditions, such as heart attacks or coronary artery disease, have done damage to one's heart. In some cases, medication, surgery, implants, or even heart replacement may be required. For the most advanced cases, patients may choose to focus on merely easing their symptoms in hospice rather than undergoing drastic treatment. As with many other heart diseases, some easy preventative steps include staying active, limiting trans fats in the diet, keeping a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and getting plenty of sleep.
#6. Chronic kidney disease
National prevalence among seniors: 18.8% (Men: 20.4%, Women: 17.5%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Florida (21.9%), Louisiana (21%), Michigan (20.7%)
Patients with chronic kidney disease experience the loss of regular kidney function, meaning their organs can no longer process fluids, electrolytes, and other waste. In the most serious cases, it leads to kidney failure and necessitates a need for dialysis or even a kidney transplant. Doctors may prescribe medications to lower patients’ high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and swelling. At home, seniors with chronic kidney disease can make simple changes to their diet, including avoiding added salt, high-potassium foods, and high proteins, all of which will aid kidney function. The National Kidney Foundation provides resources for older adults battling kidney disease.
National prevalence among seniors: 26.8% (Men: 28.7%, Women: 25.4%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Puerto Rico (48.6%), Virgin Islands (32.6%), New Jersey (32.5%)
Type 1 diabetes typically appears during childhood, but can develop any time; type 2 diabetes, which is more common, often develops in those over the age of 40. Those suffering from increased thirst, extreme hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, or infections will want to get tested for diabetes, especially if others in their family have the disease. Diabetes must be carefully managed through diet, exercise, and blood sugar monitoring. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age. The American Diabetes Association offers information on how seniors can take care of their diabetes in the long term. The Association also offers a free, printable glucose log for those tracking their blood sugar at home.
#4. Ischemic heart disease
National prevalence among seniors: 28.6% (Men: 34.9%, Women: 23.7%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Florida (36%), New Jersey (35%), Louisiana (34.6%)
Ischemic heart disease is caused by narrowed heart arteries, usually from the buildup of plaque, and is a common cause of heart attacks. Get diagnosed at the doctor’s office by taking an exercise stress test on a treadmill or measuring heart health with an electrocardiogram test. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, prescriptions, surgery, or cardiac rehab, all done under the careful guidance of a physician. Seniors with heart disease will want to focus on a heart-healthy diet consisting of fish, fruits, beans, vegetables, and whole grains. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute also offers clinical trials that seniors may be able to participate in.
National prevalence among seniors: 31.3% (Men: 25%, Women: 36.2%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Alabama (36.2%), Florida (35.8%), Louisiana (35%)
Arthritis, the leading cause of disability in the United States, refers to 100 different types of joint pain or disease, such as osteoarthritis and gout. The disease, which becomes increasingly common as individuals age, causes swelling, pain, and stiffness. Treatments vary depending on the specific type of arthritis, but, along with whatever their doctors prescribe, patients should try to be physically active, eat healthy, and maintain a normal weight, all of which will ease symptoms. Elderly patients should also maintain fall prevention methods in their home—those with arthritis are 2.5 times more likely to have a serious fall.
National prevalence among seniors: 47.8% (Men: 47.7%, Women: 47.8%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Delaware (61.6%), Florida (58.7%), Hawaii (57.1%)
Ever heard someone say they have high cholesterol? They’re referring to what’s formally known as hyperlipidemia, or having high levels of fats in the blood These include cholesterol and triglycerides, which can build up along the walls of arteries. Most people see improvement through a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet plus exercise, though some need to go on medication. The American Heart Association offers helpful tips for adults wondering how to best maintain their cholesterol levels.
National prevalence among seniors: 58.1% (Men: 56%, Women: 59.9%)
Most common states/territories for this condition: Louisiana (66.7%), Alabama (66.2%), Mississippi (64.6%)
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most common chronic condition among seniors. High blood pressure is typically caught during routine checks at the doctor or at blood pressure machines available at the pharmacy. Though it’s a common condition, the complications, ranging from stroke to aneurysm to memory loss, can be serious. Most folks treat it using a heart-healthy diet, physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, stress-reducing activities like guided breathing or gentle yoga, and limiting alcohol, though some have to go on medication. Patients can also keep track of their levels on a daily basis with at-home blood pressure monitors.