What should you expect from your health when you're over 50?

Maria Trimarchi

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

The odds of developing health problems -- some serious, some not -- increases with age. Do you know what to expect from your body as it ages? Midlife can mean making some changes to stay healthy into your golden years.

Is it true that when you age, you become more sensitive to alcohol?

As we get older, our alcohol tolerance decreases. What that means is your body doesn't respond the same way to two drinks as it did when you were younger -- and that means you'll show signs of being drunk faster.

What is the No. 1 killer of American men and women?

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and men in America, and risk rises in men over 45 and women over 55. More than 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks, which is five times more than as from breast cancer. Those who develop heart disease often begin to see symptoms in their 50s, as estrogen levels decline with menopause. And, more than one in three men have some form of cardiovascular disease.

To be diagnosed with prediabetes, your what is too high?

Prediabetes, also called insulin resistance, is diagnosed when your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. As many as 40 percent of adults between the ages of 40 and 74 have it, and that raises their chances of developing full-blown type 2 diabetes, as well as other associated conditions like heart disease and stroke. It's a wake-up call, but it's reversible.

You pinch a bit of skin on your hand and it stays in the pinched position before slowly returning to normal. Why does this happen as we age?

There are a few things happening to your skin once you reach 50. It's becoming much drier. And thinner. And looser. And you may notice it bruises or injures more easily, and takes longer to heal.

Which is a good way to improve your balance?

As many as 40 percent of Americans will have balance problems in their lifetimes, and by age 72, 24 percent of us will suffer from a contributing factor: dizziness. Inner ear problems can be to blame, but so could a medication you're taking.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing what health condition as a middle-aged adult?

About 38 percent of all U.S. adults are obese. But when you look at age groups, middle-age adults, ages 40 to 59, have the highest obesity rate, at 41 percent. Health consequences of carrying extra weight includes osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, stroke, certain cancers, heart disease, hypertension, high total cholesterol, gall bladder disease and body pain. Plus, obese adults ages 25 to 64 are four times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than those who are at a normal weight.

You find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what it was you came to get. Should you worry about dementia?

No more so than you did before. This is a pretty universal experience of aging, but it doesn't indicate either way whether or not Alzheimer's or another form of dementia is in your future. If you wonder what a refrigerator is or does, rather than what you need from inside, then it's time to check in with your doctor.

It's estimated as many as 54 million Americans over 50 are affected by decreased bone mass. What's the most common symptom?

By the time you turn 50 you've lost as much as 10 percent of your bone density. Until it's severe enough to cause a fracture or break, there aren't really any noticeable symptoms of low bone mass, called osteopenia, or osteoporosis.

In your 40s, and definitely by 50, you may find you're developing presbyopia. How would you know?

Fifty is smack in the middle of a few eye health conditions. In your 40s you'll likely start to notice it's more difficult to read or see things up close -- and this, called presbyopia, is when you'll buy your first pair of reading glassess. By the time you're about to wrap up your 50s, more pressing eye concerns start to emerge, including cataracts, glaucoma and retinal disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or diabetic retinopathy.

Which is not a symptom of overactive bladder?

OAB is the frequent, sudden and compelling urge to urinate, sometimes as often as eight or more times within 24 hours. More than 33 million adults -- men and women are about equally affected -- have overactive bladder. It's a common complaint, and your chances of developing it increase as you get older, but it's not a normal part of aging.

Having a sense of what can help you ward off dementia, heart disease, and other conditions?

It's easy to fall into a funk when we feel we no longer have a sense of purpose, such as a newly-empty nest. And the depression or anxiety that develops can have big -- bad -- effects on both physical and emotional health. Researchers have found that feeling a sense of purpose can slow down the decline of memory and thinking abilities, as well as lower your odds of diseases such as heart failure.

What change happens in your mouth as you age that makes you more prone to cavities?

By the time you hit 50, if you're not taking your regular dental checkups and home oral health care seriously, it's time to. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as many as one-quarter of adults over 65 have none of their natural teeth. While reasons will vary from person to person, xerostomia, the term your dentist uses for dry mouth, is a common problem that worsens the older you get -- and as a result, it leaves your gums and teeth at risk for bacteria to do damage.

Is weight gain inevitable as you age?

Research has found that women who don't modify their diet and eating habits as they age are as much as 138 percent more likely to gain weight -- about six pounds -- during the midlife years. The weight isn't inevitable though, with diet and exercise, although in midlife it could mean harder work to lose the pounds.

Having high blood pressure puts you at risk for all of these except which one?

Hypertension puts you at risk of having a heart attack or stroke, an aneurysm, memory issues, kidney and other organ failure, as well as the potential for vision loss. Additionally, according to the CDC, high blood pressure actually ages your heart. For example, a woman living with hypertension has, on average they report, a heart that's as much as five years older than her chronological age.

Which type of hearing loss is age-related?

Age-related hearing loss is known as presbycusis. The rate of hearing loss is slow, but the problem is more common as you get older. Age-related hearing loss typically affects both ears equally.

Which is not a common cause of constipation?

While there's no right number of bowel movements to have in a day, if you're having fewer than three in a week, it's a sign you're constipated. Constipation is more common as we age, often a combination of too little fiber in your diet, too little to drink and too little activity. But there are other contributing factors, including conditions like diabetes or medications such as narcotic painkillers or iron supplements, that can do it, too. Lactose intolerance, though, causes, among other symptoms, diarrhea, but not constipation.

Food may taste different as we age. Which is the first flavor that begins to dull?

Over 50, you may find food begins to taste different. First it's salty then sweet, then bitter, and sour, until you find you're reaching for the salt shaker more than you ever used to. It's not just your aging taste buds to blame, though. A lot of the problem is actually your nose's fault. It doesn't communicate with your brain as well as it used to, which makes it tricky for your brain to recognize what you're smelling or tasting.

If you don't know you have diabetes, you can't treat it. Untreated, it can cause all but which of these?

Diabetes isn't just about sugar and whether or not you can eat dessert (you can, btw). If it's not treated, it can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease and stroke, vision problems or blindness, kidney and nerve damage (called peripheral neuropathy). For some people, amputation of a lower limb (or limbs) may be needed if a nonhealing foot ulcer develops. And men, diabetes can lower your testosterone levels.

Which is not one of the reasons why we get shorter as we get older?

It doesn't just seem like you might be shrinking -- once you hit 40, you probably are. As we age and lose bone density, our spinal column gets shorter. Additionally, each vertebrae begins to thin and the spinal discs between begin to lose their cushioning fluid. Outside of the spinal column, as we age the arches of our feet begin to fall, and as that happens we lose a little height.

Which type of cholesterol is considered the "good" cholesterol?

About one in every six adults has high total cholesterol, 240 mg/dL and above. To find out if you have high cholesterol and triglycerides, your doctor will order a fasting blood test called a lipoprotein profile. You want your total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL, and the "bad" cholesterol, LDL, to be less than 100 mg/dL. Triglycerides, which can also raise your odds of developing heart disease, should be below 150 mg/dL, ideally. It's HDL that is the "good" type, and levels of 60 mg/dL or higher are known to decrease your risk of heart disease.

Which is the most common type of urinary incontinence among women who have given birth or have gone through menopause?

About 30 percent of women ages 30 to 60 cope with urinary incontinence, compared to 1.5 to 5 percent of men, and stress incontinence is the most common type among women who've given birth or gone through menopause. Triggers for stress incontinence include sneezing, laughing and a sudden cough.

Who is likely to deal with hair thinning and hair loss as they age?

By the time we hit age 50, 50 percent of people have gray hair. But that's not the only change aging has in store for your hair. Nearly everyone experiences some amount of hair loss, which means hair falls out, and hair thinning, which means the strands become finer. Many men are the majority bald by the time they hit 60. Male-pattern baldness, at the temples and on top of the head, is one of the most common types of hair loss related to aging, and it's related to testosterone. Women have a similar female-pattern baldness, causing fine hair and visible scalp over the years.

Which type of pain is commonly associated with aging?

As many as 100 million Americans are living with some type of chronic pain. And by age 65, an estimated 75 percent of Americans have pain. But here's the thing: whether it's back pain or bursitis, pain is not a normal part of aging.

What are the symptoms of a sluggish thyroid?

Thyroid problems are often confused for other health problems, such as with your heart, your nervous system or your bowels. Hypothyroidism, when your thyroid gets sluggish, is very common in people over 60, and the risk increases the older you get. Symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, and may also cause a subtle but noticeable decline in a person's memory and thinking skills.

Which doesn't cause wrinkles and sagging jowls?

The No. 1 reason we develop a sagging face is, simply, aging. As you get older, your skin naturally loses collagen and the layer of fat below -- and that causes the skin on your face and neck to look crepey, droopy or flabby. Cigarette smoking and sun exposure can make wrinkles and jowls develop more quickly.

Is it true your sex drive disappears as you age?

Sex doesn't have to disappear as you age. In fact, a survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the 75 to 85-year-old age group reported having sex two to three times a month. But aging can cause some sexual health problems. An estimated 50 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 will experience erectile dysfuntion at least once. In older men, ED often has to do with problems that block blood flow to the penis, such as diabetes. Women may find that falling estrogen levels cause dryness and thinning of the vaginal walls, making sex uncomfortable.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Americans age 50 and older should eat five to 10 ounces of grains every day. Which of these foods is one ounce of grains?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have certain dietary recommendations for people 50 or older. For instance, aim to eat five to 10 ounces of grains, such as a slice of whole grain bread or a half cup of cooked pasta or rice.

If you had chickenpox as a kid, you could develop what virus as an adult?

Shingles affects the nerves in your body, and causes pain and a blistery skin rash. Roughly one out of five people who have had chickenpox will get shingles later on in life, typically after age 50. When you have chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus that causes it never goes away, even though you feel better. It just goes into hiding in your nerve cells. Experts don't know why it happens, but for some people the virus can reactivate later on in life, and when that happens you develop shingles.

Which is the No. 1 factor in whether or not you'll develop colorectal cancer?

While colorectal cancer can develop in people younger than 50, more than 90 percent of diagnoses are in people over 50. It's the third most-common cancer in the U.S., and the second-leading cause of cancer death. While age, family history and certain lifestyle choices and habits are all factors in your chances of developing this disease, age is the biggest risk.

Millions of American adults have arthritis, but did you know there's more than one type? Which isn't a form of arthritis?

Did you know there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases? The most common are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), fibromyalgia and gout (also called gouty arthritis).

Which is not one of the ABCDEs of recognizing melanoma?

Two-thirds of all melanoma deaths in the U.S. were white men over 50, more than twice the rate of women. For early diagnosis and treatment, learn to recognize the ABCDEs of melanoma: asymmetrical, irregular border, non-uniform color, diameter greater than a pencil eraser and an evolving color, shape, or size.

How often does the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force recommend women ages 50 to 74 have a mammogram screening?

One in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. And among women who are currently 50, 2.28 percent will develop breast cancer sometime during the next 10 years. The U.S. Preventative Service Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women between age 50 and 74 have a mammogram every other year.

Which is a chronic lower respiratory disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is actually a group of diseases that includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and, in some cases, asthma. Complications and death from chronic lower respiratory disease more than double each decade after you reach age 60, and it was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2014.

Which is not a symptom of menopause?

Women may notice vaginal dryness, low libido, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain around the belly and fatigue with menopause -- and expect it. But you may not expect it to also be a time of vision changes, hair loss and even conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse. It's also a time when women should become proactive about their bone density.

If no one in your family has prostate cancer, should you still get screenings?

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in American men, so it's important to have prostate cancer screenings, including a prostate-specific antigen blood test and the digital rectal exam, beginning at 50.

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