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Presentation of Illness in Older Adults: If you think you know what you’re looking for, think again.

Amella, Elaine J. PhD, APRN, BC

AJN, American Journal of Nursing: October 2004 - Volume 104 - Issue 10 - pp 40-51
FEATURES: A New Look at the OLD: CE

OVERVIEW: Although people age at different rates, changes to the composition of the human body are a hallmark of aging. As a result of such changes, disease can present differently in a person over 65 years old than it would in a younger adult or child. This article identifies the critical indicators of underlying conditions, including changes in mental status, loss of function, decrease in appetite, dehydration, falls, pain, dizziness, and incontinence. It also describes the presentation of diseases common to older adults, including depression, infection, cardiac disease, gastrointestinal disorders, thyroid disease, and type 2 diabetes.

As the body ages, it changes; so does the presentation of many common illness. Differentiating disease from normal aging requires an understanding of the aging process and assessment skills developed for evaluating the older adult.

Elaine J. Amella is an associate dean for research and an associate professor at Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing, Charleston. Contact author:

This article is the second in a series that’s supported in part by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies to the Gerontological Society of America. Nancy A. Stotts, EdD, RN, FAAN (, and Carole E. Deitrich, MS, GNP, RN (, are the series editors. The author of this article has no significant ties, financial or otherwise, to any company that might have an interest in the publication of this educational activity.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.