Date: August 8, 2023

Author: Jayne Stewart


Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints among people of all ages, both in the United States and globally. Although the causes of headaches vary, they seem to peak between the ages of 18 and 44.

You might be surprised to learn that the prevalence of headaches in elderly adults tends to decrease after the age of 40. Headaches in the elderly may be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, so we will look at some of the symptoms that can cause a headache in elderly people and determine when to seek medical intervention.

What Causes Bad Headaches in Elderly People?

Headaches range from mild to severe and can be categorized into two basic types. A primary headache, which includes migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches, make up almost 98% of all headaches. The primary headache is not caused by underlying diseases, and can usually be relieved with over-the-counter medications. They don’t typically have neurological symptoms associated with them, but there are certain causes or “triggers” that have been linked to a bad headache in a senior patient. Possible causes of a primary headache include:

  • Lifestyle factors
  • Alcohol consumption, especially red wine.
  • Certain foods, especially foods containing preservatives and nitrates.
  • Skipped meals.
  • Stress
  • Poor quality of sleep or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Tooth grinding
  • An incorrect or expired eyeglass prescription.
  • Excessively loud noises
  • Tight headwear, such as headbands, goggles, or helmets

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What is a Secondary Headache?

A secondary headache has an underlying medical condition. The headache is only a symptom of a medical problem. Possible causes of secondary headaches may include hypertension (high blood pressure), injuries such as concussions, infections like sinus infections or abscessed teeth, blood vessel issues like ruptured or blocked vessels, and head injuries. Though rare, secondary headaches can be red flags for serious conditions such as stroke, brain tumors, and aneurysms. Signs of secondary headaches include:

  • A different or new type of headache, especially in someone over the age of 50.
  • Abrupt or sudden onset
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Gets worse with exertion or when changing positions.
  • Wakes you up or disrupts your sleep.
  • Worsens when coughing or straining.
  • Intensifies when chewing food.
  • Severe headache following a head injury.
  • The feeling of a “worst ever” headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Inability to move a limb.

Headache Treatment for the Elderly

Elderly headache treatment depends on the type of headache you have and the underlying cause of the headache. If you experience any of the symptoms of the secondary headache, you should contact your doctor immediately or go to the Emergency Room if your physician is not available. Be sure to see your doctor if your headaches are different, more frequent, worsen, or if they can’t be relieved with the following treatments:

  1. Over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and Ibuprofen can usually relieve the pain caused by primary headaches. (Use these medications in moderation.)
  2. Resting in a quiet, darkened room is often helpful if you have a migraine headache.
  3. Hot or cold compresses applied to your head or neck can be helpful.
  4. Try consuming small amounts of caffeine.
  5. Massage therapy is a great way to relax and relieve stress.
  6. Be sure you are hydrated. Dehydration can cause painful headaches.

If these suggestions do not give you relief, contact your doctor or medical professional to assess your condition and to rule out the possibility of an undiagnosed medical condition. If you experience an abrupt onset headache, unrelenting or unbearable headache pain, slurred speech, or blurred vision, seek medical help immediately.

Date: August 8, 2023

Author: Jayne Stewart


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