Aging and the Thyroid Gland

As we age, many things start to slow down. One of them is our thyroid gland.

In particular, the thyroid releases less T3 and T4 hormones in older people. And even the hormone that is released is usually less effective than it is in younger people. As a result, older people have a greater risk of thyroid disease.

However, the classic symptoms of thyroid disease — fatigue, weakness, constipation, reduced appetite, intolerance to cold, hair loss, and dry skin — are often less pronounced in seniors. Even when they are noted, they are often attributed to the aging process rather than to an underactive thyroid.

Treatment for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is the same in the senior population as it is for younger people: hormone replacement therapy. However, seniors will start with a lower dose of medication to treat their hypothyroidism than younger adults, since thyroid replacement hormone can increase the risk of cardiac events such as heart attack, angina, and arrhythmia.

An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is also more common in the senior population than it is in adults under 65. Even more than with hypothyroidism, older people will usually present without the classic symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Instead, symptoms of hyperthyroidism in seniors include cognitive impairment, fatigue, and mania or depression.

Treatment for hyperthyroidism in older people differs from the treatment recommended for younger patients. Rather than having surgery, seniors are more likely to be treated with radioactive iodine, which destroys only some of the thyroid tissue. This treatment option is both less risky and more effective for a senior with hyperparathyroidism. If, as a result of radioactive iodine treatment, the patient develops hypothyroidism, they can then be treated with hormone replacement medication.

At Atlantic Coast Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Lakewood, NJ, we take a restorative approach to health care for senior citizens, including monitoring their endocrine system, including their thyroid. It’s part of our philosophy of maximizing function and well-being in a positive and upbeat atmosphere.

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