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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

What Normal Aging is Like – Part 1 of 2

If you spent any time at all with an assortment of media, you can be forgiven for believing that getting old is a disease. (Some scientists and others believe that's all it is and are working hard, spending billions of dollars, to “cure” aging. But that's a topic for another time.)

All day every day we are bombarded with ads for pills and potions and treatments for a phenomenal number of ailments that, from the appearance of actors involved, afflict only old people.

There is so much of it, you have wonder if there is any such thing as normal aging. Or, to put it another way, what should we expect, barring big-time diseases, from our bodies and well-being as we age into the upper decades of life?

Aging happens as a result of varying combinations of genes, health and dumb luck and in time, certain things will happen no matter how heathily you have lived. In addition, as we often mention here, people age at different rates and in different ways so what happens to one person at 50 may not affect another until age 70. Or, maybe, not at all.

Working to satisfy my curiosity about normal aging didn't take long – there's not much but what there is, is in agreement. Here is an overview of some of the things I've tracked down to expect as we get into our fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond.

VISION: By age 40 almost everyone needs reading glasses. By 60, many have cataracts. It is normal for clarity and peripheral vision to decline along with sensitivity to glare and decreased ability to judge distance.

HEARING: One-third of people 60 and older will suffer some amount of hearing loss. Acuity declines, particularly sounds in the high registers. It commonly becomes difficult to hear close-up sounds when there is ambient noise such as conversation at the table in a loud restaurant.

As one source advises, if you are not hearing as well as you did years ago, you're probably okay. If you hearing is worse than a week ago, see your doctor.

TEETH AND TASTE: The number of taste buds declines so flavors are not as strong as in the past. The amount of saliva declines resulting in vulnerability to tooth decay and infection along with receding gums.

TOUCH AND SMELL: The sense of smell and touch both decline. Fingerprints flatten out and sometimes cannot be read.

SKIN: Nails grow more slowly. Skin is drier because less oil is produced so we get lines and wrinkles and sags. Cuts and abrasions heal more slowly.

CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM: The heart may enlarge, the walls become thicker and arteries stiffen. Your heart rate slows. With age, we become more vulnerable to hypertension which affects 50 percent of people 60 and older – hypertension defined as blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher.

LUNGS: Elasticity of lungs begins to decline some time in our 20s and ribcage muscles shrink progressively over time. Overall breathing capacity diminishes with each decade.

STAMINA AND STRENGTH: Changes in the heart and lungs along with other factors, affect stamina and strength. Although exercise, stretching and weight training can help, you will lose muscle mass. Walking regularly can help keep up stamina.

BONES AND JOINTS: Most of us are aware that we can become shorter as we age because the discs between our vertebrae become thinner. Recently, a friend told me she is two inches shorter than she used to be.

All during adulthood, our bones become become less dense and therefore lose strength. Risk of osteoporosis (loss of bone density) increases in all elders but especially women.

According to a page at WebMD, most people reach their peak functioning at about age 30. Continuing,

'We shouldn’t think of aging as a failure of our bodily systems,' says Kenneth Minaker, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“'Aging is a life-saving process,' he says. 'It is a process of lifelong adaptation to prevent us from developing cancers that would kill us.'”

Obviously, that doesn't always work out well. Tomorrow in Part Two of normal aging, I'll continue with what else to expect as the years roll on.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Just Another Friday Night


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Aging is a process as much as sexual development in adolescence. Some have an easier time than others--the luck of the draw.

Actually myopic people have improved eyesight as they age, my distance vision improved by 50% so a weaker prescription and we can read fine print close up well into old age. I read books by taking off my glass. It's about the only perk about being a four-eyes in your youth.

I swallowed the koolaid about bone density and muscle mass until I read an article about a woman who became a triathlete in her 60s and found that her bone density increased. It really is caused by a lifetime of inactivity and by seniors doing what they term "gentlesize" instead of intensive weight bearing exercise and strength and agility training.

Ronni,
I just wanted to stop in and let you know that i love your blog! I'm (only) 56, but i find something of value in every post. I think your blog is wonderful for filling in the blanks on things i'm not aware of, too young for, etc. I want to have a place where i can get accurate information, not the crap that we're fed on the nightly news. So, thank you for all you do!

"people age at different rates and in different ways so what happens to one person at 50 may not affect another until age 70. Or, maybe, not at all."

In your search Ronni did you find anything that confirms such differences even within families? If so, what factors contribute to this?

ATTENTION Vera and everyone...
That's terrific for you about your vision, Vera, but it does not hold for the majority of us.

And although it's true that bone density CAN increase in old age to a degree, overall it will decrease in most elders even with exercise and anyway, the variables from person to person are astronomical so one person's experience is meaningless to the idea of normal aging.

Please Vera and everyone, do not make any blanket medical and health statements, suggestions or claims based on anecdotal evidence - yours or anyone else's.

If you have scientific evidence, it must reputable and you must link to the source - the original research.

Any other kind of claim posted here about medical and health regimens, drugs, behaviors, etc. will be deleted.

Larry,
As noted in the story, genetics play a part in how we age. It's not the only part

I have written about the difference in rates that we age many times over ten years, quoted probably dozens of sources. It is as basic to the medical understanding of geriatrics as the fact that you will die even if you eat all your vegetables.

And of course it varies within families, but - SNARK ALERT - unless you're willing to pay the big bucks, I'm not going to track down the underlying research you can perfectly well do yourself.

i assume that part2 will discuss memory changes. i just want to say that one should be careful what and how you bring up concerns in the doctors office. my insurance company is trying to denying me a long term care policy based on records from my doctor in which i asked my doctor about memory concerns.

it seems to me there are physical and mental changes that happen throughout our lives that are normal and there are others that are mostly due to neglect. for one thing, i have always had a lousy memory, anyway. now i don't feel like i need to apologize for not remembering a name because it is expected of a 72 year old...not really fair, is it?

I really like having this place to come to realize that at 62 I am having some normal aging. I always think-I am too young for that! Then I read something here that lets me know that indeed-it could be a normal change. I flipped out when my eye doctor said I had cataracts beginning. I have since found out that it is normal in some people over 60. I really love having a meeting place here. Thank-you

As someone who suffered with migraines since I was in my early 20's, aging has given me relief I didn't expect. I remember my neurologist once telling me that the good news was that migraine occurrences usually decrease with age, but the bad news was that it happened because the arteries hardened. Whatever the cause, it's great to live without pain!

I turned 69 a few days ago, and must tell you that I've never felt better.

One thing that I have never heard mentioned is a subject Larry touched on - the difference between family members. Obviously a different lifestyle would account for aging differences between family members. But I am curious about how much heredity plays in the aging effects on the body. If there have been studies on this I can't find them.

I guess it would be almost impossible to isolate what makes one person die at an early age while his/her sibling lived to be 99. The old argument "Nature or nurture" seems to apply here as well as with children. It's probably a combination of both. And, of course, unless you have an identical twin, the inherited genes would be different.

Just asking.

This is so good to see. Some I knew but not most of it, and it is very helpful.

I am reminded that aging at any stage comes with changes - some better some not so much. Look at former child stars who "aged out" of their early dreams.

Following your example, a few years ago when I turned 66 I marched down to the SS office to sign up in person. It felt like matriculation to the next (higher) level. I was somewhat surprised at how good that felt and how it prepared me to look ahead in a positive way. That includes adjustment to physical changes. It's so good to have this info.

Environment--including the work environment--is another important factor in aging. Some general examples:

***Cataracts develop partly in response to UV-radiation over time. Thus pilots tend to develop them at a somewhat younger age than others.

***Some hearing loss occurs in rock & roll musicians at a younger age than in others.

***Skin cancer tends to occur earlier in those with a lot of exposure to the sun. I read some years ago that prior to the establishment of tanning salons, melanoma did not occur in young people in their early 20's.

***In the book Successful Aging, the authors consider whether an increase in high- blood pressure inevitably comes with age. They conclude that it appears to in the highly-developed countries but not in the less-developed parts of the world where people have to walk more and have few labor-saving devices.

This is my go-to-first site, and when there's spare time, I'm reading the archives. And since Ronni has been doing this almost daily for so many years - well, a gift that keeps on giving...
I think this is well-documented - stress is a leading cause for physical ills. So because I'm trying to stay off meds for prediabetes & high blood pressure, I've taken up exercising, & a fairly strict diet - no difference - now I'm going after the stress. This is my choice of treatment, not a professional's. As I have tinnitus and deafness in the same ear, I tend to nod alot when not truly hearing, which might be good for the neck/jaw muscles?!

Thanks for this info, Ronni. I thought I was pretty well informed about all the changes as we age but I'd not heard about the decreasing lung capacity. I'm rather addicted to breathing. I think I may start focusing a bit more on aerobic exercises.

may as well throw in declining sex drive and/or performance. Leaving this behind can be sad and/or liberating, but part of growing old. Not sure if it's an ailment or not, but I'd rather have cataracts if I could choose.

I'm not crazy about any of this stuff that happens as we age, but "que sera sera". I don't like medical procedures and can't afford cosmetic surgery anyway, so there it is. If I had my 'druthers, I'd choose to remain much as I was in my 50s until I drop dead. Alas, it's not to be.

I didn't start experiencing some of the effects of normal aging listed above until I hit 70 (although of course my physical appearance changed. Even now at almost 77, I'm still relatively healthy and active although I'm definitely NOT super-athletic (never was) and just recently observed that my balance isn't quite as good as it once was. My husband, who's 84, has that problem also.

I agree--- this is a great post! Everyday I look forward to reading it with my coffee. Keep up the good work!

At 68 I am beginning to see the future and with your help I will be informed and ready for my life ahead.

Good post and comments! It is true that aging is not the same for everybody. We age differently and even different parts of our own body age at different speeds than other parts. It is quite the trip!
As I approach 70 I have just learned that my eye sight has improved this past year, my sleep apnea has improved so much they are amazed, and I have no cavities.

I just turned 76 and am one of those who supposedly looks young for my age. (That's what they tell me to my face, anyway.)

I take no credit for it. I'm sure genetics plays a large part, but it could be that because I never smoked and rarely drank alcohol, neither of those things has taken its toll.

I've often wondered how much a late menopause factors into it, as well. I had my last period (actually some spotting) at 62 and took hormone supplements for several years afterward.

I'm a writer so I'm at my desk a good part of the day but I manage to get in at least a mile walk nearly every day. The need for exercise at our ages can't be emphasized enough. It may be the most important thing we can do to keep the grim reaper from catching up with us before we're ready.

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