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Fatigue in Older Adults

Slowing down as you get older may feel like a natural part of aging, however, chronic fatigue and dissipating energy levels shouldn’t be ignored. If you or someone you care for is feeling more and more tired each day and simply wiped out, you won’t want to miss this guide on recognizing fatigue in older adults and what to do about it:

Common Causes of Fatigue

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (Mohamed_hassan)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (Mohamed_hassan)

You might be surprised to learn that it’s more than physical exhaustion that can lead a senior to feel fatigued and lacking energy. Common causes of fatigue in older adults may include:

  • Medication side effects – medicines that are commonly taken for things like allergies, pain, nausea, and depression can have side effects that make you tired, zap your energy levels, and even contribute to brain fog.

  • Stress, anxiety, and depression – emotional stress that comes with things like grief over the loss of a loved one, difficulty hearing, financial woes, and loss of independence can manifest in very physical ways including fatigue and diminished energy.

  • Sleep deprivation – lack of sleep has been linked to everything from bad moods and fatigue to increased risk for Alzheimer’s. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults over 65 get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

  • Poor diet – malnutrition, or not getting adequate nutrients in your diet, can be a source of fatigue, weakness, and even increase your susceptibility to getting sick. For example, anemia (low iron) can definitely exacerbate feelings of tiredness. At the same time, consuming lots of food that is primarily “junk” or fatty, processed, fried foods can do the same thing.

  • Medical treatments and surgery – common treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation used to treat cancer, can cause severe fatigue as can recovering from a major surgery like a knee or hip replacement.

  • Alcohol consumption – 2.5 million older adults in the U.S. have an alcohol or drug abuse problem and both contribute to not just poor health but chronic fatigue as well. Alcohol especially can interact with medication you may be taking, inhibit proper nutrient absorption from the food you eat and change your behavior and thinking skills.

  • Boredom – is your day lacking the pep and vigor it once had when you were working or more mobile? Waking to a long day ahead that has little planned or scheduled can make you feel lackluster and tired.

  • Dehydration – dehydration continues to be a leading cause of hospitalization in adults over 65 and symptoms can often be confused with fatigue. Disorientation, low energy levels, and brain fog might actually be an indication that your body is low on fluids.

Does Low Blood Pressure Cause Fatigue?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (Gadini)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (Gadini)

In short, not really. A sudden and severe blood pressure drop can definitely foster symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and fainting. However, chronically low blood pressure will not be the sole source of your fatigue. Sometimes a medication you are taking for low blood pressure can cause fatigue (like some beta blockers), however, if you are experiencing chronically low blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor right away.

In addition to treating you for low blood pressure by adjusting medications or modifying your diet, your doctor may also encourage you to practice accurate blood pressure monitoring at home with an easy-to-use digital blood pressure monitor that records readings and alerts you to high and low spikes – check out this helpful list. A sudden drop in blood pressure can be life-threatening so if you or someone you care for has one, get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Tips for Preventing Fatigue

Avoid long naps and late-day caffeine fixes – keep your afternoon naps to 30 minutes or less and avoid drinking caffeine after lunchtime. This can not only help you fall asleep faster come bedtime but improve the quality of your sleep too so you wake rested and energized.

Address bad habits – quitting smoking is practically the best thing you can do for your health in general, no matter your age or health status. But, it can also fight fatigue by lowering your risk for tiresome lifestyle conditions like breathing problems and heart disease. Cutting excessive alcohol consumption can do the same thing.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (MabelAmber)1

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (MabelAmber)1

Exercise regularly – it might seem like ‘rest’ should be on order if you are feeling fatigued, however, it’s the opposite that is true. Routine exercise helps to increase your appetite and improve your sleep as well as make you stronger, more flexible, and well, happier – all things that can bolster energy levels.

Keep a daily journal – recognizing patterns of fatigue will most aptly help you and the person you care for address them. Note diet, exercise, and nightly sleep habits as well as the times of day when you feel most fatigued and then start a conversation with your doctor to address it.