Changes to look for in the Elderly

Healthy Aging – Normal Aging

As your body ages, you can expect gradual changes, at your body’s own pace. How your body ages depends in part on your family (genetic) patterns of aging. But your lifestyle choices have a more powerful impact on how well your body ages. Fortunately, you can control your lifestyle choices.

Some of the following changes may apply to you. Others may not. A healthy lifestyle may slow many of these normal effects of aging.

Skin:  With age, the skin becomes less elastic and more lined and wrinkled. Fingernail growth also slows. The oil glands gradually produce less oil, making the skin drier than before. You can slow skin aging by using moisturizer and protecting the skin from the sun with sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, such as a hat or cap.

Hair:  It’s normal for hair to gradually thin on the scalp, pubic area, and armpits. As hair pigment cells decline in number, gray hair growth increases.

Height:  By age 80, it’s common to have lost as much as 2 in. (5 cm) in height. This is often related to normal changes in posture and compression of joints, spinal bones, and spinal discs.

Hearing:  Over time, changes in the ear make high-frequency sounds harder to hear and changes in tone and speech less clear. These changes tend to speed up after age 55.

Vision:  Most people in their 40s develop a need for reading glasses as the lenses in the eyes become less flexible (presbyopia). It’s also normal for night vision and visual sharpness to decline. Also in the later years, glare increasingly interferes with clear vision. Vision changes can affect your ability to drive safely. For more information, see:

Sleep:  Changes in sleep and circadian rhythm occur as you age. You will probably sleep less at night, and you may not sleep as deeply as you did when you were younger. And it’s more likely that you’ll wake up during the night and/or wake up earlier in the morning.

Bones: Throughout adulthood, men and women gradually lose some of the mineral content in their bones. The bones get less dense and strong. You can slow natural bone loss and reduce your risk of osteoporosis by getting regular, weight -bearing exercise (such as walking), getting enough calcium and vitamin D and avoiding lifestyle choices that weaken bones (such as smoking). Your doctor may also recommend a bone-protecting medicine. For more information, see the topic Osteoporosis.

Metabolism and body composition: Over time, the body typically needs less energy, and your metabolism slows. Hormone changes in the aging body result in a shift to more body fat and less muscle mass. The best approach to managing these changes is to take in fewer calories while keeping up or increasing your physical activity. Strength training is an especially good way to build or keep your muscle mass. When your muscle mass is reduced, your metabolism slows down. Building or keeping your muscle mass allows your metabolism to remain the same or increase.

Brain and nervous system: Starting in the third decade of life, the brain’s weight, the size of its nerve network, and its blood flow decrease. But the brain adapts to these changes, growing new patterns of nerve endings. Memory changes are a normal part of the aging process-it’s common to have less recall of recent memories and to be slower remembering names and details. You can help keep your brain sharp. Engage in regular social activity. Challenge yourself to learn and do new things. And be physically active, to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

Heart and blood circulation: The heart naturally becomes less efficient as it ages, and your heart has to work a little harder during activity than it did in the past. This makes the heart muscle a little larger. You’ll notice a gradual decline in your energy or endurance from one decade to the next.

Lungs:  In inactive people, the lungs become less efficient over time, supplying the body with less oxygen. Regular physical activity plays a key role in keeping your lungs strong.

Kidneys:  With advancing age, the kidneys decline in size and function. They don’t clear wastes and some medicines from the blood as quickly and don’t help the body handle dehydration as well as in the past. This makes it increasingly important that you minimize the toxins, alcohol, and unnecessary medicine that you take in, and that you drink plenty of water.

Urinary incontinence:  Age-related changes in the urinary system, decreased mobility, and some medicine side effects can all lead to urinary incontinence this does not have to be part of normal aging, so talk to your doctor if urinary incontinence is affecting you.

Sexual function: Men and women produce lower levels of hormones starting in their 50s. Men produce less sperm, and their sexual response time slows. Women stop ovulating and have a number of menopausal changes linked to lower estrogen production.

Physical activity builds physical vitality. With every year of your life, you have more to gain from being physically active.

 What are the benefits of being physically active?

On a daily basis, being physically active improves your quality of life by improving your:

  • Energy level.
  • Mental sharpness.
  • Mood (regular aerobic exercise can help manage depression ,anxiety, and stress).
  • Balance, strength, and flexibility, which are key to preventing injuries and falls.
  • Odds against chronic illness. Physical activity also often helps manage chronic illness with fewer medicines.

Healthy Aging – Emotional and Mental Vitality

Emotional and mental vitality are closely tied to physical vitality-just as your mind has powerful effects on your body, so your physical state affects how you feel and think. Social contact can also make a big difference in how you feel.

Replacing a “lost” activity is a key to staying active and feeling good about you. For instance, if you can no longer run, you might try walking, biking, and/or swimming. And if your favorite activity was dancing, you might try something else that combines social and physical activity, such as joining a water aerobics class. Replacing lost activities can help you keep a positive attitude and sense of well-being over time, even if aging and changes in your health mean you cannot do all the things you used to do.

Physical Therapy: Protect or improve your emotional and cognitive health with regular physical activity. While physical activity produces chemicals in the body that promote emotional well-being, inactivity can make depression, anxiety, and stress worse. Research has been done to link physical activity and the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s. Adults who are physically active may be less likely to get Alzheimer’s or dementia than adults who are not physically active.

Social activity: Protect or improve your emotional health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the greater community. Whether physically healthy or ill, people who feel connected to others are more likely to thrive than those who are socially isolated. Volunteering in your community and sharing your wisdom and talents with others is a gratifying and meaningful way to enrich your life.

Mental activity: Protect or improve your memory and mental sharpness by:

  • Challenging your intellect on a daily basis. Read, learn a new musical instrument or language, do crossword puzzles, or play games of strategy with others. Just like an active body, an active brain continues to develop and thrive, while an inactive brain loses its power over time.
  • Helping your memory along. Write down dates, names, and other important information that you easily forget. Use routine and repetition. For example, keep daily items such as keys and eyeglasses in a specific place. And when you meet someone new, picture that person while you repeat his or her name out loud to others or to yourself several times to commit it to memory. (No matter what your age, having too much on your mind can keep you from remembering new information. And as you age, it is normal to take longer to retrieve new information from your memory bank.)
  • Preventing depression, which is a common yet treatable cause of cognitive decline in older people. In addition to getting regular physical activity and social contact, avoid the depressant effect of alcohol and sedative use, eat healthy meals and snacks, and include meaningful activity in your daily life (such as learning, creating, working, volunteering). If you think you have depression, seek professional help-antidepressant medicine or counseling or both are effective treatments for depression. If you find that a physical condition or disability is making your depressed mood worse, get the medical treatment you need.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking may speed mental decline. This connection was identified in a large study comparing smokers and nonsmokers age 65 and over. If you smoke and would like to stop, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Stress reduction and relaxation techniques: Too much life stress can take a toll on your body, your mind, and the people who are closest to you. In addition to getting regular physical activity, you can take charge of how stress affects you by taking 20 minutes a day for relaxation time.

  • Meditation focuses your attention and helps calm both mind and body. Daily mediation is used for managing a spectrum of physical and emotional conditions, including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
  • The body responds to stress with muscle tension, which can cause pain or discomfort. Progressive muscle relaxation reduces muscle tension and general anxiety and may help you get to sleep.
  • The way you breathe affects your whole body. Try breathing exercises at home. Full, deep breathing is a good way to reduce tension, feel relaxed, and reduce stress. For more information about reducing stress, see the topic Stress management.

Positive thinking:  Positive thinking may help you live a longer, happier life. Even if you tend to be an optimist, there are times when it takes extra effort to frame your life positively. Take the following steps to harness the power of positive thinking in your daily life.

  • Create positive expectations of yourself, your health, and life in general. When you catch yourself using negative self-talk or predicting a bad outcome, stop. Reframe your thought into a positive one, and speak it out loud or write it down. This type of thinking can help you best recover from surgery, cancer and other life crises.
  • Open yourself to humor, friendship, and love. Go out of your way to find reasons to laugh and to spend time with people you enjoy.
  • Appeal to a higher power, if it suits you. Whether it is through your faith in a loving, all-powerful God or your connection with nature or a collective unconscious, your sense of spiritual wellness can help you through personal trials and enhance your joy in living.