7 Expensive Medical Problems That Strike After Age 50

Doctor examining senior patient
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As we age, health issues often creep up that threaten to tarnish our golden years. Treating some of these diseases and conditions can be expensive.

Fortunately, there are ways to cut the cost of such care. Following are some health conditions that tend to strike after age 50 — and how to lower the price of care if you are diagnosed with them.

Arthritis

Arthritis strikes about 91 million Americans. In 2013, it cost an average of $2,117 per patient, according to a 2018 report from the Arthritis Foundation.

How to cut costs. The Arthritis Foundation has a webpage devoted to ways to trim the tab for arthritis care. It includes resources such as financial aid organizations and pharmaceutical programs that help pay for medications and surgery.

Osteoporosis

Around 54 million Americans have low bone density, a condition called osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Among women older than 50, 1 in 2 will break a bone due to the disease. Among men in that age group, the figure is 1 in 4.

How to cut costs. One study found that osteoporosis care cost the nation $22 billion in 2008. Prescription medications often are used to treat this condition, so ask your doctor about using less costly generic drugs.

Weight-bearing exercise — such as lifting weights, walking or running, and activities such as tennis — is also a great way to build bone density, and it costs little or nothing to do.

Finally, relatively cheap vitamin D supplements can help your body use calcium and strengthen bones. Ask your doctor if they are right for you.

Diabetes

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes. Your risk for the disease increases as you age; more than one-quarter of adults ages 65 or older have diabetes.

Diagnosed diabetes cost the nation $327 billion in 2017, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Patients bear the brunt of those expenses. People with diabetes incur health care costs that are 2.3 times higher than people without the disease, according to the ADA.

How to cut costs. Getting tested early for diabetes is the key to keeping care costs under control. As the disease progresses, it can become more dangerous — and significantly more expensive to treat.

If you have diabetes, costs will be lower if your health insurance covers your treatments. The ADA’s Diabetes Forecast magazine has some tips for persuading your insurer to help pay for diabetes devices and supplies.

Finally, a healthful diet and regular exercise can help you control diabetes. In some cases, your efforts might be so effective that you no longer need expensive treatment. The ADA has tips for food and exercise on its website.

Obesity

As the years roll on, our waistlines expand. More than one-third of adults 65 and older are obese, according to a 2007-2010 survey report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimated in a 2009 report that an obese person spends an average of $1,429 more per person than those of normal weight.

How to cut costs. Slimming down significantly reduces your risk of being diagnosed with many costly health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and osteoarthritis.

Switching to a healthful diet and starting an exercise program are inexpensive ways to avoid the costs associated with obesity.

Heart problems

Simply put, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

This condition encompasses many problems related to atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances. Heart disease costs the nation about $200 billion annually, according to the CDC.

How to cut costs. Several medical conditions are closely related to a higher risk of developing heart disease. They include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Smoking

A better diet and regular exercise can help you reduce your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol readings. And quitting smoking is among the best ways to both improve your health and save some money.

Declining oral health

About 24% of American men and 29% of American women older than 65 do not have any of their natural teeth, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s a sobering reminder that our oral health begins to slip as we age.

Treating such conditions can be expensive. Americans of all ages spent $124 billion on dental expenses in 2016, according to the American Dental Association.

How to cut costs. Regular visits to the dentist are the best way to catch problems early, when they are less costly to treat. The ADA notes that while some people should see their dentist just once or twice a year, others may require more frequent visits. Consult with your dentist to find the right schedule for you.

Dental visits can be costly if you do not have dental insurance. The ADA website offers help finding more affordable care.

Shingles

While this illness is likely to be far less costly than others on the list, it deserves attention because it is so prevalent in the over-50 demographic. In fact, while close to 1 in 3 people will develop it at some point, half of all cases of shingles are diagnosed in people 60 and older.

Shingles is a painful, blistering rash. And complications related to shingles — from the blisters to an ongoing type of pain called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN, which can last for months or years after the rash is gone — can take a toll on your wallet.

How to cut costs. Fortunately, there is an easy and affordable fix for shingles: vaccination. As we have reported a new vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles in folks age 50 and older. For more information, check out “CDC Urges Everyone 50 and Older to Get New Vaccine.”

How do you cut health care costs? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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