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Reasons for fatigue in older adults

19th April 2024


Many people experience fatigue and tiredness that they can’t quite explain, including older adults. Feeling overly tired can severely impact physical and mental health and it can even impact mobility, leading to trips and falls. For those using mobility aids such as a curved stairlift or bath aids for older people, being alert to manoeuvre the equipment is important for safety reasons. Fatigue in older adults can occur for a number of reasons, including underlying health conditions. This article highlights some potential causes of lack of energy in older adults.

Chronic medical conditions

Chronic medical conditions can lead to extreme fatigue in older adults because they cause the body to work harder to maintain its normal functions, which can drain energy levels over time. Additionally, symptoms such as pain or difficulty breathing can contribute to fatigue.

For example, conditions like heart disease can reduce the heart's ability to pump blood effectively, leading to decreased oxygen delivery to tissues and causing fatigue. Similarly, diabetes can disrupt the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels, leading to fluctuations in energy. Other conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, and chronic kidney disease, can all cause fatigue due to their impact on bodily functions.Top of Form

Those who are feeling extreme fatigued, please contact your GP right away so tests can be run to discern if a medical condition is the cause.



Fatigue in older people can be due to undiagnosed anaemia. There are many different types of anaemia, but the most common in the UK is due to an iron deficiency. One of the most obvious symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia is tiredness, coupled with shortness of breath and a paler complexion. Stop Being Tired explains why anaemia makes you feel tired:

“The explanation for why anaemia makes you so tired is simple. The reduction in the amount of iron in your body leaves a deficiency of the very component needed for the formation of the haemoglobin necessary for healthy red blood cells. Since haemoglobin transports oxygen to the body’s cells, any reduction in the haemoglobin count will result in less oxygen being delivered.”

“That, in turn, leaves less oxygen available for the mitochondrial energy factories within those cells to use as they convert the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats you eat into the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) your body uses as energy. This is where fatigue comes in.”

If someone is suffering from symptoms, then seeking professional advice is the first step. Increasing a person’s iron intake is necessary for overcoming the symptoms and treating iron deficiency anaemia. Diet is key to increasing a person’s iron intake, and food that is rich in iron includes red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits and nuts.

READ ALSO: Tips and advice for over 60s


One of the most common symptoms of depression is tiredness or fatigue, and it can be hard to identify the root issue, with people focusing on their tiredness as opposed to what is causing it. The emotional energy used during depression can lead to fatigue, so it’s important to recognise if tiredness is connected to depression.

Beyond Blue is a company that provides information and support to help people achieve good mental health. They feel that older adults may display the physical characteristics of depression: “Older people with depression tend to present with more symptoms from the physical category compared to the other categories. So, an older person is more likely to present to their GP with various physical complaints and difficulty sleeping rather than complaints of sadness or low mood.”

If a person is concerned that they are struggling with depression, seeking medical advice should be the first port of call. Staying active both physically and socially aids towards staying positive. There are lots of charities that are focused on helping older adults who are suffering from mental health.

Poor nutrition


Getting tired as you get older can also be caused by poor nutrition. Eating overly processed foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Body and Soul describe the process:

“Excessive secretion of insulin, which is the body's way of trying to balance blood sugar levels, causes tryptophan to move into the brain, where it is metabolised into serotonin and melatonin. These neurotransmitters have a calming effect and help regulate sleep. To help balance blood sugar and insulin levels, choose natural foods that are high in fibre and protein such as whole grains, legumes and nuts.”

Another area that can cause tiredness is intolerance. If a person’s body is unable to process gluten or lactose, it can cause negative effects, such as bloating or tiredness. The best way to alter a diet in a positive manner is through eating more fresh produce and avoiding processed foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as avoiding starchy carbohydrates, will leave people with more energy and improve their productivity.

READ ALSO: Quick and easy, healthy evening meals

Side effects of medication

As people get older, taking medication is very common for one ailment or another. However, some side effects can cause fatigue and tiredness. Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Allergy medications and antihistamines are often the cause of tiredness, as are some anxiety and depression medications. Blood pressure medication is another common cause of tiredness and is also prevalent among older adults. Some pain medications (based on opioids) are also a cause of tiredness in older adults.

For those who recognise their fatigue may be caused by medication, check with a GP to see if that medication could be the source. If this is the case, looking into alternative medication may be a possibility. If this is not the case, talking to a GP about preserving energy and finding ways to boost it may be the best alternative. 

Poor quality of sleep


A lack of sleep is often a clear reason for tiredness in the elderly during the day. There are lots of reasons why sleep could be broken, some of them are environmental such as light pollution, noise, temperature, or sometimes it is personal, like pain.

Ensuring the environment is perfect for a restful sleep is the beginning of improving the quality of rest. Black-out blinds are the best way to remove any light pollution and keep a person awake. Noise is less easy to block out, but removing technology that will beep and emit noise and charging electronic devices outside of the bedroom is a good way to ensure sleep is not disturbed.

Bedsheets made from natural materials such as pure cotton are a good way to make sure people will not feel too warm during the night as it is a naturally breathable material. For those looking to explore ways to make their environment more restful, check out the article ‘A healthy night-time routine for older people ’.

A lack of sleep can also be caused by health conditions and discomfort from things such as arthritis. Treating these conditions can improve comfort levels and allow much-needed rest.

Causes of lack of energy in older adults

  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Anaemia
  • Depression
  • Poor nutrition
  • Side effects of medication
  • Poor quality of sleep

Feeling tired as you get older is normal but there are reasons why fatigue in older people can set in and there are things you can do to help. Hopefully the above information has been helpful. If you are experiencing extreme fatigue, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

This article was brought to you by Handicare, working with Age Co, who provide a range of home mobility products such as stairliftshomelifts and walk in baths and showers. For more information about how they can help make your home more accessible, please get in touch.

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.