Fatigue or tiredness is one of the most common complaints expressed by the elderly. In most cases it is due to insufficient rest and reduced stamina associated with aging. This is one of the reasons why older people often need to sleep for longer periods, have more frequent rest breaks when physically taxed and are generally less active than younger adults. However, age does not bring about a persistent feeling of fatigue and a senior can be just as active and energetic then younger adults although this may be for shorter periods of time.
Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness due to low energy levels and is accompanied usually by sleepiness and weakness. The human body has a set level of endurance and stamina, which you varies from person to person, and after which fatigue sets in. This fatigue, or tiredness, is a normal response once the body’s ability to handle activity of any kind is temporarily exhausted.
Resting for a short while, having a full night’s sleep, or sometimes eating, is sufficient to restore ones energy levels again. And more stressful situations, a person may require several days before the feeling of fatigue eases away. In all these contexts, fatigue is seen as a normal response to a in stressful for active period. In some instances fatigue is possibly a sign of some underlying imbalances or disease process in the body despite the lack of other symptoms.
Causes of Fatigue
Most medical conditions present with fatigue at some point or the other especially if the disease is inadequately treated or poorly managed. However, it has to be evaluated whether the tiredness can be attributed to some other cause, like having too little sleep, or whether it is characteristic for a person’s age and lifestyle. The energy levels depend on :
- the body’s metabolic rate,
- supply of oxygen and nutrients are to the cells in the body,
- hormone levels that control various process that impact on energy production,
- an efficient system that can run the body of wastes and other toxic products, and
- a person’s mental and emotional state.
It is usually when one or more of these processes are disrupted that persistent or uncharacteristic fatigue can set in. Some of the causes of fatigue include :
- Depression and other mental health disorders
- Problems with blood circulation, like heart failure.
- Impaired breathing, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Hormonal imbalances, like the onset of menopause in women and hypothyroidism.
- Malnutrition where there are deficiencies of vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12.
- Metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus.
- Systemic infections like HIV.
Chronic fatigue syndrome which occurs for no clearly identifiable reason may also lead to extreme fatigue despite the absence of any known disease. Sometimes fatigue can be attributed to side effects of certain medication.
Fatigue in Seniors
Fatigue in itself is a symptom. It is not always considered as an indicator of the disease as it normally occurs in life and is therefore ignored at times. However, persistent fatigue or fatigue that occurs for no clearly identifiable reason and continues even with the rest that is considered to be a symptom of some underlying disease. It should also be differentiated from other symptoms, such as drowsiness, confusion, or excessive sleepiness. In the elderly, these terms are often used interchangeably which is misleading to the attending doctor.
Although fatigue is a term used to indicate the degree of tiredness, it can be further differentiated according to additional factors such as :
- Is the fatigue present in the morning upon waking even after a good night’s sleep?
- Is the fatigue uncharacteristic for other people in the same age group?
- Has the level of fatigue affected a persons normal lifestyle to a significant level?
- Does a person feel the need to sleep or constantly doze of unwillingly during the course of the day?
- Did the fatigue start after commencing with certain medication?
The elderly who have experience a decrease in certain hormone levels with age, like growth hormone and thyroid hormone, coupled with the prevalence of chronic disease in the senior years are therefore more likely to experience severe fatigue. This is further exacerbated by the volley of medication that is used simultaneously to treat a wide array of medical conditions.
An older person should therefore ensure that they pace themselves throughout the day especially when undertaking strenuous physical activity. Eating well, sleeping for more than 6 hours in a day, and keeping physically active may play a major role in counteracting fatigue. Regular medical check ups to detect and monitor medical conditions, coupled with proper use of medication are also important in limiting the extent of fatigue.
Last Updated: January 10th, 2012 by