Nothing prepared Linda C. Johnson of Indianapolis for the fatigue that descended on her after a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer in early 2020. Initially, Johnson, now 77, thought she was depressed. She could barely summon the energy to get dressed in the morning. Some days, she couldn’t get out of bed. But as she began to get her affairs in order, Johnson realized something else was going on. However long she slept the night before, she woke up exhausted. She felt depleted, even if she didn’t do much during the day.
“People would tell me, ‘You know, you’re getting old.’ And that wasn’t helpful at all. Because then you feel there’s nothing you can do mentally or physically to deal with this,” she told me.
Fatigue is a common companion of many illnesses that beset older adults: heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease, kidney disease, and neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, among others. It’s one of the most common symptoms associated with chronic illness, affecting 40% to 74% of older people living with these conditions, according to a 2021 review by researchers at the University of Massachusetts.
Excerpted from Popular Science