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Geriatric Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom that can occur in people of any age group. However, headaches, such as migraine headaches, are most common in young adults and middle-aged individuals; the incidence of both migraine headaches and tension headaches decreases in the geriatric demographic. Only five percent of women over the age of 70 and less than five percent of men over the age of 70 still suffer from migraine headaches.

People in older age groups have fewer headaches in general, and they also have a higher rate of secondary headaches. This means that they are more likely to have headaches as a symptom of another medical condition instead of headaches with no known underlying medical cause. Younger age groups are much more likely to have primary headaches, or idiopathic headaches. Some estimates suggest that older people are ten times more likely to have secondary headaches than younger individuals.

Some medical conditions that can cause headache symptoms in older individuals include stroke, temporal arteritis and trigeminal neuralgia. In addition, a rare type of headache called a hypnic headache may occur in some older people during sleep, and trauma to the head from falling can also cause headache pain.

A stroke is an infarction, or a blockage of blood vessels, in the brain that causes damage to the brain tissue supplied by those blood vessels. Headache does not always occur in stroke cases, and certain types of strokes are more likely to cause headache symptoms than others.

Temporal arteritis is inflammation of blood vessels in the temporal (side) region of the head that can cause headache pain on one or both sides of the head. Temporal arteritis can be caused by certain autoimmune disorders that are much more common after the age of 50, such as polymyalgia rheumatica.

Trigeminal neuralgia is nerve pain that occurs in the trigeminal nerve that supplies much of the face. This condition usually occurs in middle-aged or older individuals. Trigeminal neuralgia pain is like severe headache or toothache pain, but it typically only lasts a few minutes at a time. Most cases of trigeminal neuralgia are caused by nerve compression, but it can also be caused by tumors. Neuralgia that mimics headache symptoms can also occur in some cases where a person is infected with herpes zoster virus (shingles) and the virus causes damage to the facial nerves.