Chronic vs. Acute Disease in Older Adults

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  • 0:01 Late Adulthood
  • 0:52 Chronic vs. Acute
  • 2:11 Illness & Age
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

It seems like older adults get sick a lot more than younger adults. But is this always true? In this lesson, we'll explore the differences in chronic and acute illnesses and how older adults are different, health-wise, from younger ones.

Late Adulthood

Holden is in his 80s, and he's happy for every day he has in his life. But everything's not all rosy. He has coronary heart disease, which means that his blood vessels are narrow. He also has arthritis, a disease that causes painful inflammation of his joints.

Holden is in late adulthood, or the time of life after age 65. For many people, this is a fun time, because they often have more free time to spend with their loved ones, and they also often are less stressed out than when they were younger.

But it can be a difficult time, as well, particularly when it comes to illness. As people age, they are more susceptible to illnesses of all types. Let's look closer at how age affects illness, and at the two types of illness: chronic and acute.

Chronic vs. Acute

Remember Holden? He has coronary heart disease and arthritis. To make things worse, Holden had a heart attack last week and is now in the hospital. Things just aren't going well for Holden.

Disease is often classified into two categories: chronic and acute. Chronic illness is a disease that lasts a long time. Chronic illnesses are usually treated, not cured. For example, Holden takes medication for his coronary heart disease and for his arthritis. The medication helps his symptoms, but it doesn't cure the underlying diseases. Instead, those are always with him.

On the other hand, an acute illness is a disease that lasts a shorter time. Treatment for acute illnesses can involve curing the disease. For example, when Holden has a cold or the flu, the disease runs its course and then is gone. It doesn't stick around for years, like his heart disease or arthritis.

Remember that Holden is in the hospital because he had a heart attack. While this is likely related to his chronic heart disease, the heart attack itself is an acute illness because it happened and then was over. In contrast, his heart disease is still there.

Illness & Age

If I told you that Holden has arthritis and coronary heart disease and that he had a heart attack recently, but you didn't know his age, you might still guess that he was in late adulthood. That's because, while chronic and acute illnesses can occur at any age, illness is more associated with late adulthood.

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