It is a sad reality that older people are at greater risk for developing health problems. 

Many people find their eyesight begins to decline after 40, while wear-and tear arthritis can increase after 45. 

Before you or your GP blame your symptoms on ‘just age,’ read these salutary tales from Angela Epstein about how serious health problems they had were first attributed to ‘getting older.

Arthritis? It was a genetic disorder.

Abbey Robb, 42, an integrative psychotherapist, lives near Wimbledon in South-West London

Abbey Robb (42), a holistic psychotherapist, lives near Wimbledon, South-West London

Abbey Robb (42), a holistic psychotherapist, lives near Wimbledon, South-West London.

In the last few years, I have been experiencing increasing pains in my knees and joints. My GP told me that this is what happens as we get older — that it was probably a sign of early wear and tear arthritis — and just to take ibuprofen for the pain.

It got worse. It hurt when I tried to put my feet together — I felt like I couldn’t fully control my joints. I couldn’t properly kneel and the misalignment of my knees began to put pressure on other joints.

The physiotherapist suggested some exercises to strengthen my knees such as squats. However, it seemed to make the problem worse.

I was also told that my weight was a major reason for my pain. Then I was talking to a friend who was a GP. 

He noticed how I was moving my joints, and suggested that it could have been Ehlers Danlos syndrome. It affects connective tissues and causes hypermobility.

I went to private to see a rheumatologist, who performed various physical tests to assess the joints of my body and confirmed that I had Ehlers Danlos syndrome. It was so easy to receive a diagnosis.

It turned out that the exercises my previous physiotherapist had recommended were the best I could do. I am now waiting to see a specialist in hypermobility. I was also prescribed a drug called Naltrexone to treat my joint pain. This works by stimulating the body’s natural pain relief system.

While I was upset to find out I had this condition it also means that I can now plan my future. For example, I am renovating my bathroom to have a walk in shower instead of a bathtub. This is difficult for me. If I’d been listened, all of this could have been done months ago.

Expert opinion: Professor Tony Kochhar is a consultant orthopaedic physician at London Bridge Hospital. He said that the “Ehlers Danlos syndrome” is a connective tissue disorder in which the ligaments and tendon that support bones and muscles are too stretchy.

“Caused by a genetic mutation, it cannot be attributed to the aging process. It usually begins in childhood. You might notice ‘clicky joints’, or a history where you have sprain your ankles while doing simple tasks like walking.

Pain may only begin in adulthood, as the condition is progressive. Exercises are performed to balance and strengthen muscles and to reduce the stretchiness of ligaments. There may be irreversible damage to the joints if you don’t get treatment. 

It wasn’t menopause. It was cancer. 

Sharon Dobbs, 54, a nurse, lives in London with her husband, Lawrence, 57, who works in funding accounting. She says: 'I was one of those people who rarely went to the doctor, but at Christmas time in 2016 I started to feel unwell'

Sharon Dobbs, a 54-year-old nurse, now lives in London with Lawrence, 57, an accountant who funds accounting. She said that she was one of those people who never went to the doctor. But in 2016, when Christmas came around, she felt unwell.

Sharon Dobbs (54), a nurse, lives with Lawrence (57), who works in funding accounting.

I was one those people who didn’t go to the doctor very often, but I felt unwell at Christmas 2016. I felt bloated and full even though I hadn’t eaten and was going to the toilet more often than usual.

After this continued for a few more weeks, my GP referred to a gastroenterologist. He did an ultrasound of me stomach, but didn’t find anything concerning.

However, my symptoms persisted. Being a nurse, I worried that I might have ovarian cancer because my symptoms — bloating, feeling unusually full — are also common signs of the disease.

I persevered and was finally referred to a Gynaecologist on July 2017. I requested a CT scan or laparoscopy to see more details about my ovaries. The specialist said it wasn’t necessary. He said that I was getting older — I was 50 — and was clearly going through the peri-menopause, the natural transition before menopause.

My problems had been lingering for so long that I thought maybe he was correct. However, my stomach continued to feel swollen and painful over the next few months, and I was exhausted all the time — I’d come home from work and just collapse on the sofa.

In October 2017, I decided that I would use private medical insurance to visit another gynaecologist. He organised the right scans that revealed, to my horror, that I had ovarian cancer. It was stage 3 — advanced — and had spread to my bowel, ovaries and diaphragm.

I was shocked, terrified, and angry. My symptoms were dismissed as part of growing older. Was I going to die?!

I had to have immediate surgery to remove my cervix, ovaries and womb. Five months later, I started chemotherapy. It seemed to work but then the cancer came back. I had to have additional chemotherapy between January 2020 and June 2020 because it was found between the ribs. It was devastating again.

I am currently cancer-free, but I don’t know what the future holds. I would have had a 95% chance of getting rid of the disease if I had been diagnosed earlier. It’s now a matter of waiting and watching.

It’s a travesty to think of how easy it is to dismiss such a serious issue and call it ‘getting older’. I’d urge any woman to listen to her body — whatever the experts say.

EXPERT VIEWPOINT – Professor Gordon Jayson, a consultant in medical oncology at The Christie Hospital, Manchester, who specializes in gynaecological carcinomas, stated that there are approximately 7,500 new cases of ovarian cancer in the UK each year. The average age of diagnosis is between 60 and 58.

“Unfortunately, I have treated many women whose symptoms were initially dismissed as part of the menopause or getting older. Bloating and other symptoms associated with ovarian cancer can worsen over time, which is not the case with menopause.

A woman who is experiencing abdominal pain or distension that is new or worsening should be investigated immediately. This includes the right scans and a blood test to check for a substance called CA125 — which is produced by some ovarian cancer cells,’

Broken arm: Real cause not identified

Linda Beirne, 60, an admin assistant, lives in Birmingham with her husband Francis, 60, a retired civil servant. She said: 'I¿ve always been fit and full of energy and imagined I would always be. Then, while visiting an aunt in hospital in December 2019, I slipped on a wet grass verge as I got out of the car'

Linda Beirne (60), an admin assistant, lives with Francis, 60, a retired civil service worker. She stated that she was always fit and full of energy, and had always hoped to be like that. I fell on a wet grass verge when I got out of my car while visiting an aunt at the hospital in December 2019.

Linda Beirne (60), an admin assistant, lives with Francis, 60, a retired civil service worker.

I’ve always felt fit and full of energy. I never imagined that I would ever stop being that way. When I was visiting my aunt in hospital, December 2019, I fell on a wet grass verge while getting out of the car.

The pain was so intense that I knew I had done something to my left hand. I broke my wrist in three places. I was surprised how bad the break was as I hadn’t fallen from a height — I’m only 4ft 10in — and the grass was quite soft.

Both of my sisters-in-law had broken bones in the past few years and, afterwards, were offered a bone density scan — known as a DEXA scan — to see how strong your bones are.

I thought I’d request one after the cast was off to check for any underlying issues. I was concerned because I had experienced the menopause in my 40s. This is a risk factor to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis weakens bones and increases the likelihood of them breaking.

However, the doctor said that a scan wasn’t necessary and that as we age, we tend to do more damage when we fall. I wasn’t happy so I kept asking for the DEXA test.

I was finally granted one seven months after my accident in July 2020. The consultant called me back and told me that I had moderate to severe osteoporosis. I felt completely let down hearing this. I felt like a clumsy woman “getting on with a bit” when they should have checked that there was no underlying reason for my bad break.

Although there is no cure for osteoporosis I take calcium supplements and alendronic acids pills to slow down bone loss.

Expert viewpoint: Arvind Sinha, a consultant rheumatologist at University Hospital Birmingham, said: ‘Osteoporosis is not a straightforward condition to diagnose as it doesn’t cause pain in itself, but it’s more common in older people — especially post-menopausal women because bone density is maintained by the hormone oestrogen.

‘Red flags include if a woman has had an early menopause — as Linda did. It is often called a silent disease because it causes no symptoms until the fracture occurs. However, treatment can slow down the progression of the disease if caught early.

Ageing your eyes is actually a muscle problem 

Georgie Foster, 39, a journalist, lives with her partner Jaime, 30, in North London

Georgie Foster, 39 years old, is a journalist and lives in North London with Jaime, 30.

Georgie Foster (39), a journalist, lives in North London, with Jaime (30).

I had noticed a shift in my vision in June last year and I went to my optician. I noticed that I was seeing twice when I was tired, especially when I looked at the lines on roads. This made me feel unsafe driving. It was also making it difficult to breathe.

Because they were only treating emergency cases, it was difficult to get an appointment with an optician. However, I was really concerned that something was wrong. After I explained my symptoms to the optometrist, I finally got an appointment.

I was really offended, and I told him that I didn’t understand what he meant.

He explained that the lenses of the eyes become less flexible as we age, which makes it more difficult for us to focus on close objects. He stated that this was exactly what was happening to him. Although I didn’t require reading glasses, I thought it was possible that he was right. I had been using a computer far too much.

So I tried to reduce my screen usage and take frequent breaks at work. But the problem did not go away. Coincidentally, I was able to start dating an optometrist just a few months after that. 

He was a Spanish-qualified doctor so he wasn’t working in the UK yet. However, he advised me to push for another appointment because he didn’t believe my problems were due to age.

I saw another optometrist in January this year, who said I had esophoria — a condition in which the eyes drift outward due a muscular weakness and which has nothing to do with ageing.

It was wonderful to be told that I had a specific problem and that it could be addressed.

I was referred to an optometrist and prescribed specialist glasses. These lenses have prisms that reverse outward eye movement and stop double vision.

They have been a game-changer. I no longer experience double vision and feel nausea-free. I also don’t get tired while driving or feel unsafe.

It’s a rage to think that something as serious as sight problems could be attributed to aging and not being investigated immediately. I’m not yet 40.

Expert opinion: Andrew Lotery is a professor of Ophthalmology at University of Southampton. He said that Esophoria can affect eye coordination. Double vision is caused by the eyes not aligned. This could be due to muscle weakness, or the eye’s size and shape.

The condition can be intermittent, or it may only occur when you are tired or don’t have the right glasses.

‘To make the diagnosis, you have to do specific tests such as covering and uncovering an eye in a particular way — and not all optometrists are trained in doing these tests.

“But esophoria can be managed with specialist glasses. It’s important to not ignore it. It can cause irreversible double blindness if it is not treated.


Five of the best alcohol-free beverages

Are you trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume? It seems obvious to choose an alcohol-free option, but is it as simple as it sounds? ANGELA DOWDEN, nutritionist evaluates some of these options.

Eisberg Sparkling Blanc

£3.99 for 750ml, Waitrose

Prosecco can be substituted for:

Per 125ml Calories, 31. Sugar, 7.3g; Alcohol, less than 0.05 per cent

Low-alcohol wines are more sugary than normal wines. This happens because most of the grape juice is fermented to alcohol, which reduces the sugar. 

Prosecco is 125ml and contains half a teaspoon sugar. This glass has about two teaspoons. You can save 50 calories by not drinking alcohol.

Taste: It has a balanced acidity/sweetness; tastes more like wine rather than a soft beverage. 


Big Drop Brewing Co Stout

330ml, £1.89,

You can drink instead of: Guinness

Per 330ml Bottle: Calories, 154, sugar, 13.2g, alcohol, less that 0.5 percent

This isn’t completely alcohol free but you’d need to drink at least six bottles for it to equal one unit. It’s no lower in sugar than most stouts, but does have 25 per cent fewer calories.

It is rich and delicious, with very little alcohol. 


Seedlip Spice 94

700ml, £26,

Gin is better than: Gin

Calories, 0; sugar, 0g; alcohol, none.

Made with a variety of herbs, spices, peels and barks (allspice, cardamom, oak, lemon and grapefruit), distilled and blended to make a non-alcoholic spirit, this spicy option has zero calories — a measure of traditional gin has 61 calories.

Taste: Aromatic, with berry and cardamom notes. 


St Peter’s Without Gold

500ml, £1.30, Morrisons

You can drink instead of: Craft beer

Per 500ml bottle: Calories, 120; sugar, trace; alcohol, none.

A 500ml bottle contains 120 calories, and a traditional beer bottle with alcoholic craft beer has 300 calories. A 500ml portion is almost sugarless.

Taste: Full-bodied, malty with a delightfully citrussy tang. 


Kopparberg Premium Cider – Alcohol-Free Strawberry and Lime

500ml, £1.30, Tesco

500ml bottles: Calories: 205; sugar, 50.5g. Alcohol less than 0.05 percent

This is twice as high-calorie than a standard alcoholic sugar cider. A 500ml bottle of alcoholic sweet cider has twice the amount sugar as an average alcoholic drink with two alcohol units.

Taste: Sweet, fruity, and quite fragrant.