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Senior Health (cont.)

Body Changes That Occur As We Age

A wide spectrum of changes occurs in the human body as we age. Although most of these changes are not a sign of disease, they can be distressing. Being aware of these potential bodily changes as an expected part of aging can reduce some of this distress and anxiety. Some of the common bodily changes of aging are listed below.

  • Changes in skin: Skin can become less flexible, thinner, and more fragile. Skin can also bruise easily. Wrinkles, age spots, and skin tags may be more prominent. Decreased natural skin oil production can result in more dry and itchy skin.
  • Changes in bone, joints, and muscles: Bones typically lose density and strength and may also shrink in size, thus, making them more prone to fractures (breaks). Muscle mass generally shrinks, and people become weaker. As a result of normal wear and tear, joints become inflamed, painful, and less flexible.
  • Changes in mobility: Mobility and balance can be affected by aging. Bone, joint, and muscle changes along with changes in nervous system contribute to balance problems. Falls can result in further damage with bruises and fractures.
  • Changes in body shape: As a result of bony changes of aging, body stature can shrink and back curvature can be lost. Muscle mass is reduced and fat metabolism is slowed leading to more difficult weight management. Fat is maintained in the abdominal and buttock areas.
  • Changes in face: Facial wrinkles and age spots are common and the overall shape of the face can change. The face can sag and become droopy as result of volume loss related to shrinkage of bone and fat volume in the face.
  • Changes in teeth and gum: Teeth can become weaker and more brittle. Gums can pull back from the teeth and less saliva is typically produced by oral glands. As a result dry mouth, tooth decay, tooth infections, bad breath, tooth loss, and gum disease may ensue.
  • Changes in hair and nails: Hair can become thinner and weaker. Drier hair can cause more itching and discomfort. Nails can get dry and brittle and form vertical ridges. Toe nails can also become thick and lose their natural shape. Nail fungal infections are not uncommon.
  • Changes in hormones and metabolism: Hormonal changes are commonly encountered in the elderly. Metabolism of sugar and carbohydrate cab be altered leading to diabetes. Metabolisms of fat, cholesterol, calcium and vitamin D are common altered. The thyroid gland can start to function poorly. Low levels of sexual hormones can lead to erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness.
  • Changes in memory: Memory problems are common in seniors. This entails simple forgetfulness about minor task and does not necessarily constitute dementia, which is a disease manifested by impaired executive functioning.
  • Changes in immune system: The body's immune system may become weaker with age increasing the risk of infections.
  • Changes in hearing: Changes in nerves of hearing and ear structures can impair hearing and lead to age-related hearing loss. Typically, higher frequencies become more difficult to hear.
  • Changes in vision: The eye may get drier and the lens can lose its focus. Vision can become blurry and out of focus. Some of these problems can be modified by wearing glasses and contact lenses.
  • Changes in smell and taste: Sense of smell and, less commonly, sense of taste may diminish leading to poor appetite and weight loss.
  • Changes in bowel and bladder: Bowel and bladder incontinence (involuntary loss of feces or urine) are common. Constipation, urinary frequency, and difficulty initiating urine can be particularly distressing for seniors.
  • Changes in sleep: Sleep can significantly change with age. Duration of sleep, quality of sleep, and frequent night time awakening are commonly seen in seniors.

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