According to the National Institutes of Health, if you experience “throbbing, pulling, creeping, or other unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, and sometimes overwhelming, urge to move them,” you may have restless legs syndrome. Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, restless legs syndrome is a medical condition that affects between 2 and 10 percent of adults. Many with the condition find it difficult to fall asleep, as symptoms are most severe at night. The NIH says, “The most distinctive or unusual aspect of the condition is that lying down and trying to relax activates the symptoms.”
With the exceptions of possible genetic connections or underlying diseases like kidney failure, diabetes, or peripheral neuropathy, the medical community has been unable to pinpoint the cause of restless legs in seniors. Diagnosis usually relies on anecdotal descriptions of symptoms, though tests can rule out other conditions.
Symptoms and Triggers of Restless Legs Syndrome
The primary symptom of restless legs is a need to move the legs to alleviate discomfort. According to the NIH, “the symptoms are worse at night with a distinct symptom-free period in the early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time.”
While some prescription medications like antidepressants can set off an episode, according to the Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation, there are a few other common triggers:
- Caffeine (including chocolate)
- Stress and anxiety
- Antihistamines and anti-nausea medications
These are many of the things you should avoid altogether or use in moderation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. By eliminating the food and drink triggers, you’ll also be on your way to a healthier diet.
Tips for Seniors With Restless Legs Syndrome
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) explains that restless legs syndrome isn’t fatal; however, it can make relaxation, getting to sleep, and travel in today’s cramped airplane cabins uncomfortable. While there is no cure for restless legs, there are several things seniors can do to alleviate symptoms:
- Treat any underlying disease or medical condition, which can alleviate the discomfort.
- Eliminate the triggers above to diminish the number of episodes.
- Ask your doctor about supplements to replenish potential deficiencies of iron, folic acid, and magnesium.
- Get up and walk around to relieve immediate discomfort, which works for many seniors.
The methods above can diminish the number and/or severity of episodes, but they may not completely cure you of restless legs. If you try all the applicable tips above and don’t see any change, talk with your doctor about medication options. There are many drugs available to help you manage the symptoms, but there’s no one-size-fits-all drug solution.
Restless legs syndrome can be a lifelong condition, but many people who suffer its symptoms continue to live healthy, fruitful, and independent lives. A few adjustments to your lifestyle can help you thrive in spite of restless legs and continue to do all the things you love.
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