As we begin 2018, we find ourselves at the pinnacle of medical research, healthcare technology, and wellbeing conscientiousness, allowing people opportunities to live their best lives – well into their golden years. While senior citizens are generally more susceptible illness and health issues, contemporary medicine and preventative practices have allowed many people maintain their health into later years. Although illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and arthritis can seriously affect seniors, one of the most overlooked diseases remains mesothelioma, a serious form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Asbestos remains a threat to all, but those 65 and older have an increased risk for developing an asbestos-related disease. Seniors have such a heightened risk due to the propensity in which asbestos, a naturally-occurring silicate mineral, was used during their lifetime. Once viewed as an incredibly useful material, the mineral was utilized in many different applications throughout the 20th Century and prior – most commonly in buildings. The substance can be found commonly in insulation, roofing, flooring, pipes, and electrical wiring. While asbestos in good condition is generally not dangerous, crumbling and damaged asbestos can cause serious illness. It is imperative to never try and test and/or remove suspected asbestos by oneself; always call a professional.

Asbestos and telomere testingExposure to this carcinogen often occurs unbeknownst to the person. Whether they are storing seasonal decorations or clothing in the dusty attic, removing their old boiler in their home, or tearing out shag carpet from the 1970s, a person may inadvertently breathe in tiny particulate matter. Once inhaled, the asbestos fragments in the dust settle in the lungs, where they remain for years. During this time, known as a latency period, the person may develop a disease known as mesothelioma – it can affect the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. Mesothelioma symptoms include tightness or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, and fluid buildup in the lungs. Due to the commonality of the symptoms, the illness can sometimes be misdiagnosed, only to recognized in later stages. Prognosis for mesothelioma is poor, as most patients are given 12-21 months to live. Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma.

While seniors do have an increased risk for illness and disease such as mesothelioma, staying atop a healthy lifestyle can help alleviate potential health risks. Eating right, exercising, and regularly seeing a physician will increase a senior’s longevity by taking care of their body. Seniors can better their prognosis chances by immediately seeing a doctor if they experience any mesothelioma symptoms. Furthermore, measurement of telomeres can help indicate a person’s body’s true age, and can even help in preventative care – some studies have also concluded that measuring telomeres can also help in identifying cancer. Through healthy lifestyle practices and avoidance of suspected carcinogenic areas, seniors can focus on many happy years to come.