As we age, our bodies will undergo various changes impacting our health and well-being. From changes in the skin and bones to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, aging affects nearly every aspect of our bodies. Understanding these changes can help us take steps to maintain our health and quality of life as we age. In this article, we will discuss the different changes in the body during aging.
Changes In The Body With Aging
According to information provided by MSD Manuals, a trusted source of medical information, below are some of the changes in our bodies that occur as we age.
As people age, their eyes undergo several changes, including
- stiffening of the lens, making it harder to focus on close objects
- denser lenses making it harder to see in dim light,
- slower pupil reaction to changes in lighty
- yellowing of the lens which changes the way colors are perceived,
- fewer nerve cells impairing depth perception,
- and decreased fluid production leading to dryness.
When people get older, they may have some issues with their hearing such as,
- Having a harder time hearing high-pitched sounds, known as age-related hearing loss or presbycusis. This can make it hard for them to understand words, even if others speak louder.
- Vestibular imbalance and ringing in the ears (tinnitus) due to slight deterioration on ear structures that help with hearing and balance.
Mouth and Nose
- Taste buds on the tongue decrease sensitivity, particularly for sweet and salty flavors.
- The sense of smell is also diminished because the lining of the nose gets thinner and drier, and the nerve endings deteriorate, mostly affecting subtle smells. This can cause many foods to taste bitter, and those with subtle smells may taste bland.
- Additionally, a dry mouth reduces the ability to taste food.
- Aging also causes gums to recede slightly, exposing the lower parts of teeth to food particles and bacteria.
- Tooth enamel may wear away, making teeth more susceptible to decay and cavities, leading to tooth loss.
- As people age, their nose lengthens and enlarges, and the tip may droop. Thick hairs may also grow in the nose, upper lip, and chin.
- With age, the skin becomes thinner, drier, and less elastic. This is because the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin break down over time, which causes it to lose its firmness and elasticity.
- The skin may also become more fragile and prone to bruising, tearing, and other injuries. As a result, older adults may be more susceptible to skin infections and other skin conditions.
- The number of nerve endings in the skin decreases making older people less sensitive to pain, temperature, and pressure.
- Skin pigment cell changes can also lead to age spots and other discolorations.
Bones and Joints
- As people age, their bones become less dense and more brittle. This is because the body’s ability to absorb calcium and other minerals decreases over time.
- The joints may also become stiffer and less flexible, leading to joint pain and stiffness.
- Arthritis, a common condition among older adults, can exacerbate joint problems and reduce mobility.
- Muscle mass and strength decreases.
- Percentage of body fat typically doubles by age 75.
- The muscles may become weaker and less flexible. This is because the number and size of muscle fibers decrease over time.
- The remaining muscle fibers may become less efficient at converting energy into motion.
- Decline in motor function and coordination due to changes in the nervous system. This can lead to decreased mobility and an increased risk of falls, further exacerbating muscle and joint problems.
- As you age, your cognitive processing speed decreases, which can affect your ability to quickly react and respond to new information.
- Working memory, which is the ability to hold and manipulate information in the short-term, also declines with age. This can impact your ability to multitask and remember new information.
- Older adults may experience difficulty with selective attention, which is the ability to focus on one task while ignoring distractions. They may also experience increased distractibility.
- Long-term memory, which is the ability to store and retrieve information over extended periods of time, may remain relatively stable or even improve with age.
- Executive functioning refers to the cognitive processes involved in planning, organizing, and carrying out complex tasks. These skills may decline with age, although research suggests that they may be preserved with regular mental stimulation and exercise.
- Older adults tend to become better at regulating their emotions and may experience fewer negative emotions overall. They may also be better at using coping strategies to deal with stressful situations.
- Many older adults place greater importance on social relationships and may derive more meaning from these connections. However, older adults may also experience more social losses due to factors such as retirement, illness, and death of friends and loved ones.
- Research suggests that overall life satisfaction may increase in later life, particularly in the absence of significant health problems or other stressors.
- Older adults may experience more complex emotions and a greater range of emotions than younger adults, which may reflect their greater life experiences.
- Older adults may be more resilient in the face of adversity, and may be better able to bounce back from setbacks or challenges.
Changes In Body Systems
As people age, the heart may become less efficient at pumping blood, and blood vessels may become less elastic. This can lead to,
- High blood pressure
- coronary artery disease,
- heart failure,
- heart attack,
- Coronary heart disease
- and stroke.
Additionally, changes in the blood vessels can lead to a decrease in blood flow to the brain, which can increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
The lungs may become less efficient at exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide with age. This is because the walls of the air sacs in the lungs may become thinner, and the muscles that support breathing may weaken over time. This can lead to increased risk of developing health conditions, such as;
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Acute bronchitis
- Lung Cancer
- and pneumonia.
As people age, the digestive system may become less efficient at absorbing nutrients. This is because the production of digestive enzymes and other substances decreases over time. Additionally, the bowel may become less regular, which can lead to constipation and other digestive issues. These changes can increase the risk of malnutrition and other health problems like
- inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis),
- celiac disease,
- and GERD
The nervous system may become less efficient at transmitting nerve impulses with age. This is because the number and function of nerve cells may decrease over time. As a result, older adults may experience a decline in cognitive function, such as memory and concentration. They may also be more susceptible to neurological disorders such as
- Alzheimer disease,
- Parkinson’s disease,
- and Stroke.
The immune system may become less efficient at fighting infections as people age. This is because the production of immune cells and antibodies decreases over time. Additionally, the immune system may become less able to distinguish between self and non-self, which can lead to autoimmune disorders. Some chronic conditions associated with changes in immune system due to aging are;
- Crohn’s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Celiac disease
- Menopause is the permanent cessation of menstruation and occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop producing eggs. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51 years, but it can occur anywhere between the ages of 40 and 58.
- As women go through menopause, their hormone levels, specifically estrogen and progesterone, decrease. This can cause a variety of symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood changes.
- Decreased estrogen levels can also cause changes in the vagina and uterus, such as thinning of the vaginal walls, decreased elasticity, and decreased blood flow. This can lead to symptoms such as vaginal dryness, itching, and painful intercourse.
- The lining of the uterus may also become thinner and less elastic, which can increase the risk of uterine prolapse or bladder prolapse.
- In men, the prostate gland may enlarge with age, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH can cause urinary symptoms such as frequent urination, difficulty starting and stopping urine flow, and weak urine stream.
Facts About Health and Aging
To better understand how aging may influence your or your loved ones’ health, here are some important facts from the American Psychological Association.
- About 92% of older adults have at least one ongoing health issue, and 77% have two or more.
- The top four chronic conditions, namely heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, cause almost 66% of all deaths yearly among individuals aged 65 and above.
- Additionally, people aged 55 and above account for over a quarter of all Americans diagnosed with HIV, and this figure is rising.
- Age-related hearing loss is widespread among older adults, affecting almost 25% of those aged 65-74 and 50% of those aged 75 and above.
- Visual changes in aging adults result in problems such as slower reading speed, difficulty reading small print, and difficulty driving at night.
- As people age, there is an increase in the proportion of older adults requiring assistance with everyday activities. While fewer than one-fifth of individuals aged 65-74 require assistance with activities of daily living, this increases to 40% of men and 53% of women over 85.
- Compared to White older adults, older ethnic and racial minorities have a higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and an earlier onset of chronic illness.
- Contributing factors to this disparity include poverty, segregated communities with fewer health-promoting resources, poor education, unemployment, discrimination, and less access to quality health care.
- Despite these health issues, about two-thirds of older adults not living in long-term care facilities consider their health to be good, very good, or excellent compared to others their age.
- Most older adults experience mild age-related changes in their thinking abilities that do not affect their daily functioning.
- Learning new skills is still possible but may take longer than for younger adults.
- While short-term memory may decline with age, long-term memory is less affected.
- Some changes in cognition are normal, such as slower reaction times and reduced problem-solving abilities. However, older adults often perform better on intelligence tests that require accumulated knowledge and experience.
- Personality traits remain stable, and most older adults report good mental health.
- However, one in four may experience mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, and the suicide rate for men over 85 is high.
- Substance abuse problems are expected to double by 2020.
- Dementia is not a normal part of aging but affects a significant proportion of the older population. Approximately 5 percent of individuals between 71 and 79 and 37 percent of the population above age 90 are affected.
- Despite these challenges, people are generally more satisfied with their lives and optimistic about aging.
Aging is a natural process that affects nearly every aspect of our bodies. From changes in the skin, bones, and muscles to the cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems, the aging process can impact our health and well-being in various ways.
However, by understanding these changes and taking steps to maintain our health and quality of life, we can minimize the negative effects of aging and enjoy our golden years to the fullest. Whether through a healthy diet, regular exercise, or staying up-to-date on preventive health measures, there are many ways to stay healthy and vital as we age. So let’s embrace the changes that come with aging and make the most of the years ahead!
To learn more about aging you may also visit our article on Old Age Problems: A Guide To Everything You Need To Know.