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Your Golden Years, Thyroid Glands, and You

At the base of your neck, below what’s commonly referred to as the Adam’s apple sits your thyroid. This butterfly-shaped gland releases hormones that are vital to a bunch of bodily functions, including metabolism, heart rate, cholesterol levels, body temperature and more.

How does the thyroid work?
Your thyroid produces, stores and releases hormones into the bloodstream. The two main hormones are Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). It’s important to have a normal balance of T3 and T4 hormones. Too much T3 and T4 is referred to as hyperthyroidism, and can lead to anxiety and mood changes, heat sensitivity, hair loss, trembling hands and missed or light menstrual periods. Too little (hypothyroidism) and you can have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, joint and muscle pain, dry skin and hair, and fatigue.

Why does it matter to older adults?
After decades of managing your body’s thyroid levels, the incidence of thyroid disease increases with age. Symptoms can commonly be misattributed to general aging, depression or dementia. However, hypothyroidism is much more common among seniors. Here’s what else you need to know:

  • About 20% of women over 60 have some form of thyroid disease
  • About 1 in 4 seniors live with mental health issues that may be related to thyroid disease
  • Approximately 15% of people diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are over 60
  • Thyroid disease is more likely to remain undiagnosed after the age of 65, compared to those with thyroid disease in their 30s and 40s

What can you watch out for?
There are a few things you can do to make sure your thyroid levels are at their best:

  1. Get your cholesterol levels checked. Hypothyroidism is a risk factor for high cholesterol and heart disease.
  2. Hypothyroidism can also lead to weak and brittle bones, which could be signs of osteoporosis.
  3. If you notice any of the symptoms of thyroid disease mentioned above, ask your doctor for a thyroid evaluation.

The good news is that problems with your thyroid are generally easy to diagnose and treat. Identifying them early can help you live an even longer and fuller life.