What is a thyroid anyway?
The thyroid gland sits inside the human neck, quietly doing its job. And for such a small organ, it has a lot of work to do. Because of the thyroid’s importance, it has a whole month in its honor. January is Thyroid Awareness Month.
The thyroid gland is so named because it produces thyroxine which scientists often refer to simply as T4. The thyroid distributes this chemical to multiple organs including the muscular system, the brain, and the heart.
There, thyroxine does important work like helping us regulate our temperatures and use energy efficiently, In other words, it’s not optional. We need thyroxine and its manufacturer, the thyroid gland, to live.
In people over 65, a malfunctioning thyroid can cause a myriad of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including:
- Itchy, dry skin
- Hearing loss
- Chest pain
- Lost ability to climb stairs
- Weight loss OR weight gain
- Inability to stay awake
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Heart flutters
- Memory loss and loss of cognitive function
As you can see, thyroid malfunction causes a host of problems that could be confused with other disorders. That’s why January is as good a month as any to make sure your senior is screened for thyroid health. Especially if he or she shows any of the above signs.
Things that can go wrong with the thyroid
In a perfect world, we would never know the thyroid exists. When it’s doing its job, it’s invisible and undetectable to its human.
But, like other organs, it can meet with some obstacles. The most common of these are:
-Iodine deficiency. Iodine is a chemical that the thyroid needs to keep doing its job. Most people get enough iodine from the salt in their diet. But if you are deficient in iodine, your thyroid gland can swell up, causing a skin-covered butterfly of sorts to emerge from your neck.
-Hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid is putting too much thyroxine into the body’s system. In senior’s, this is likely to appear as heart flutters, tremors, and a new difficulty climbing stairs because of chest pain.
-Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid also causes problems, and in seniors, the symptoms can be similarly subtle. Memory loss and loss of mental alertness are common symptoms. That’s why, when suspecting dementia, it’s very important for doctors to screen for hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is very common in older individuals, with some scientists estimating that one in four nursing home residents has an untreated version of this serious disorder.
What you can do
If you suspect your senior has a thyroid malfunction, you can ask your mother or father’s doctor to test for that. There are many tests for thyroid disorders. And, once a disorder is diagnosed, most such conditions are highly treatable.
Home health care can be invaluable in tracking symptoms that could be linked to the thyroid gland. A home health care aide can, if asked, recommend thyroid testing, take your senior to the doctor and hospital for diagnosis and treatment, and ensure home compliance with recommended treatments.
If you or an aging loved-one are considering hiring Home Care Services in Libertyville, IL, call the caring staff at LifeCare Home Health & In-Home Services. Call (888) 606-4199 LifeCare serves all of the Chicago Metro Area.
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