Discussing the challenges with autoimmune disorders in the elderly population is prompting this discussion. Autoimmune disorders have an array of clinical presentations and many atypical symptoms.
Autoimmune disease is a condition where your immune system attacks your own body and can damage many systems. There are over 100 known autoimmune disorders (National Institute of Health, 2021).
After a diagnosis of these disorders, the challenge is keeping the symptoms in control after a treatment plan has been established.
Autoimmune Disorders in Brief
- Graves’ disease-overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Hypothyroidism- underactive thyroid
- Celiac disease- a digestive disorder
- Scleroderma- hard, thickening, or tight skin
- Lupus- affects many parts of the body
- Rheumatoid arthritis- affects the joints
- Sjögren’s syndrome- attacks its own healthy tissues
- Thyroiditis- inflammation of the thyroid gland
Autoimmune disorders can be managed with medical support and caregiver education. Out of all the stated disorders, Graves’ disease is the most common, and so is hypothyroidism. Overmedication or under medication can cause concern, so know the signs and symptoms of both. If left untreated, other health conditions will develop that can be life-threatening. A metabolism that is too fast or a too-slow metabolism can create a host of symptoms.
Hypothyroidism shows up as tiredness, weight gain, feeling cold, hair loss, dry skin, and overall body aches. Hyperthyroidism results in elevated heart rates, irritability, fatigue, trouble sleeping, increased appetite, bowel irregularity, and weight loss. Lupus, a concerning disorder, impacts more women than men in African American communities and is seen as a contender in health disparities that adversely affects socially disadvantaged populations. Often diagnosed as a young adult, but with years of disease progression in the elderly years, maintenance becomes critical.
Treatment For Autoimmune Diseases
As Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate, remaining vigilant is the key to keeping your loved one managed. There are no cures for autoimmune diseases, but symptoms can be managed. Everyone’s immune system is different. That means that the treatment will be specific.
In general, you may see treatment using pain control, anti-inflammatories, sedatives, and prescriptions specific to the diagnosis, so please educate yourself on the responsibilities required as a caregiver. Do not forget to ensure you are providing healthy and nutritious meals. Be safe! Be well.
Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman is a retired registered nurse and case manager; CEO of Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate and author of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor, and The Black Book of Important Information for Caregivers.