January is thyroid awareness month! Thyroid health isn’t something that the average person thinks about on a regular basis. Many people aren’t even sure of what their thyroid is, let alone why they should be aware of it. In light of this, every year the month of January is celebrated as Thyroid Awareness Month: a month dedicated to shedding some light on the various health problems related to the small, butterfly shaped gland located at the base of everyone’s neck. The thyroid gland is a star player when it comes to the metabolism, growth, and development of the human body. It also helps the regulation of several bodily functions by releasing hormones into the bloodstream.
If the thyroid gland doesn’t function properly it’s possible to develop diseases such as hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, or thyroid cancer. The goal of thyroid awareness month is to increase people’s ability to notice the signs and symptoms of thyroid related conditions so they can be caught before they become severe or life threatening.
One of the most common thyroid related diseases is hypothyroidism, a condition that is caused by decreased production of thyroid hormones. It’s a fairly common condition, particularly for those aged 60 or older. Symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary person-to-person and may present slowly over time. The most common symptoms are weight gain, muscle weakness or aches as well as tenderness and stiffness, stiffness or swelling of the joints, and an increased blood cholesterol level. There’s not one specific cause for hypothyroidism, but women are at an increased risk especially as they age. There are also genetic factors and pre-existing conditions that people may have that should be taken into consideration.
Knowing and recognizing the signs and symptoms of thyroid related conditions are extremely important for seniors, particularly women, because many of the symptoms associated with a malfunctioning thyroid gland (weight gain, memory loss, etc.) are very similar to those associated with getting older. We know our bodies better than anyone else though, so regular check ups and blood work are increasingly important as the years go on.
Thyroid disease isn’t an inevitability. There are plenty of things that can be done to promote a healthy thyroid gland. Firstly, something that can not only help prevent thyroid diseases but a multitude of other conditions as well, is stress reduction. Stress interferes with the proper functioning of the thyroid so engaging in activities like yoga or meditation or even hobbies that you may have that relax you can make a huge difference. Another simple preventative measure would be limiting caffeine and alcohol intake. It may not be necessary to eliminate the two things entirely, but caffeine and alcohol can have adverse effects on thyroid function if it’s consumed excessively. Simple things like getting a full night’s rest (8-9 hours) and regular exercise can make a difference when it comes to thyroid health.
As mentioned earlier, thyroid disease can be a little more difficult to diagnose in seniors. While there isn’t a cure just yet, hypothyroidism and other conditions are manageable with medication and regular doctor’s visits to ensure the best quality of life for those living with the condition. If you or someone you know is living with thyroid disease keep in mind that Senior Helpers can help. Our caregivers can assist with meal preparation, medication reminders and can also assist when it comes to maintaining physician-prescribed exercise regimens and diets. Our goal is to ensure that our clients have the means to find joy and stability in their lives no regardless of their age or level of acuity.