Caregiver talking to senior resident

What Problems Can Lyme Disease Cause for Seniors?

Diseases spread by ticks are a rapidly growing health concern in the United States. Part of this is due to the increasing number of disease-causing germs, the expanding geographic ranges for ticks, the identification of new tick species and a growing number of reported tickborne diseases. The most widely known tickborne disease is Lyme disease, one of the world’s fastest growing diseases. Children and seniors are at the greatest risk of developing Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported annually.

Many seniors and caregivers have strong concerns about Lyme disease, its effects and the risks. Can Lyme disease affect your heart? Can Lyme disease cause bowel problems? In order to stay safe, it is important to understand the risks, the symptoms and the best tactics for prevention of Lyme disease.

What Problems Can Lyme Disease Cause?

While tick bites are very common, especially in the Midwest during the spring, summer and fall, there is still reason to take note of the bites. Many people do not get sick from tick bites, but if the bite is not checked, disease could be growing under the skin. Tick bites are often not painful, even when disease is involved. The lack of discomfort may appear to be a blessing, but it is a large reason that seniors must understand what the early signs of Lyme disease look like and what the disease entails. So, what problems can Lyme disease cause? And what should you watch for? Early indicators include:

• A fever, joint aches and chills
• A rash that looks like a bull’s eye
• Migraines
• Shortness of breath or dizziness
• Struggles with short-term memory
• Swollen lymph nodes

For seniors, these symptoms present complications because a symptom of Lyme disease often mimics symptoms of other conditions common in older adults. If seniors discuss any of these symptoms with their physician, they should also mention any known tick bites or any time spent outdoors in order to make their concerns clear. If Lyme disease is detected early, any antibiotic can heal the infection within three weeks. However, the longer Lyme disease goes untreated in seniors, the harder it is to cure.

Lyme Disease and High Blood Pressure

During the days and weeks after a tick bite, concerns about Lyme disease often grow. Is low blood pressure a symptom of Lyme disease? Can Lyme disease affect your heart?

These are common concerns and, actually, they are well-founded. Several weeks into the disease, Lyme disease can affect the nervous system, even causing Bell’s palsy, and can get into the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain, causing meningitis. While there is not a specific connection between Lyme disease and low blood pressure or Lyme disease and high blood pressure, Lyme disease can affect the heart. The most common problem is a very slow heartbeat that leads to fatigue, dizziness and possibly fainting. The heart muscle can also become inflamed, which is a condition called myocarditis.

In the later stages of Lyme disease, pain and swelling of joints may develop. This type of arthritis commonly affects one knee or episodes of swelling in several joints, called migratory arthritis. The symptoms can become persistent.

Preventing Lyme Disease

Concern over what problems Lyme disease can cause should not prevent seniors from enjoying time outdoors. A few simple precautions can help older adults to avoid tick bites and reduce their risk of contracting Lyme disease. The following steps can be helpful:

• Ensure arms and legs are covered by clothing. Wear clothing treated with permethrin.
• Use insect repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
• Once you come inside, dry clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. If clothing needs to be washed, use hot water.
• Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors and do a full body check for ticks. The most common areas for tick bites are the belly button, around the waist, the ears, underarms, the pelvic area, the back, behind the knees and on the legs.
• If you find a tick, remove it with pointy tweezers where the mouth parts enter the skin and pull it out slowly, then clean the area with rubbing alcohol.

Maintaining a healthy immune system is always important, especially for older adults. Spending time outdoors is part of a healthy lifestyle and is a safe activity, as long as precautions are taken.

Planning for the Future

At Stratford Commons Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, our care is person-centered. We are here to tackle your medical needs, concerns and questions from day one. We provide a better way of getting better with high-quality health care and a holistic wellness approach for every condition. We are able to support you on your road to recovery through our meticulous monitoring and our attentive therapy team, which allows us to be ready to ward off any medical problems that may arise. Set up a tour today.