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Aging: What To Expect As You Get Older
Looked in the mirror lately only to find a
few more wrinkles and gray hairs? Those are just a few of the changes
you're likely to notice as you get older. But what exactly is going on
with your body? Here's what you can expect as you age.
Natural changes with age
of how long you live, time takes a toll on the organs and systems in
your body. How and when this occurs is unique to you. Some typical
changes to expect as you age include:
time, your heart muscle becomes a less efficient pump, working harder
to pump the same amount of blood through your body. Also, your blood
vessels become less elastic. Hardened fatty deposits may form on the
walls of your arteries (atherosclerosis), narrowing the passageway
through the vessels. The natural loss of elasticity, in combination
with atherosclerosis, makes your arteries stiffer, causing your heart
to work even harder to pump blood through them. This can lead to high
blood pressure (hypertension).
Bones, muscles and joints
bones reach their maximum mass between ages 25 and 35. As you age, your
bones shrink in size and density. One consequence is that you might
become shorter. Gradual loss of density weakens your bones and makes
them more susceptible to fracture. Muscles, tendons and joints
generally lose some strength and flexibility as you age.
and the motions that automatically move digested food through your
intestines slow down as you get older. The amount of surface area
within your intestines diminishes slightly. The flow of secretions from
your stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine may decrease. These
changes generally don't disrupt your digestive process, so you may
never notice them. But you might notice more constipation.
Kidneys, bladder and urinary tract
age, your kidneys become less efficient in removing waste from your
bloodstream. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood
pressure, and some medications can damage your kidneys further.
30 percent of people age 65 and older experience a loss of bladder
control (urinary incontinence). Incontinence can be caused by a number
of health problems, such as obesity, frequent constipation and chronic
Women are more likely than men to have incontinence. Women
who've been through menopause might experience stress incontinence as
the muscles around the opening of the bladder (the sphincter muscles)
lose strength and bladder reflexes change. As estrogen levels decline,
the tissue lining the tube through which urine passes (urethra) becomes
thinner. Pelvic muscles become weaker, reducing bladder support.
older men, incontinence is sometimes caused by an enlarged prostate,
which can block the urethra. This makes it difficult to empty your
bladder and can cause small amounts of urine to leak.
Brain and nervous system
number of cells (neurons) in your brain decreases with age, and your
memory becomes less efficient. However, in some areas of your brain,
the number of connections between the cells increases, perhaps helping
to compensate for the aging neurons and maintain brain function. Your
reflexes tend to become slower. You also tend to become less
With age, your eyes are
less able to produce tears, your retinas thin, and your lenses
gradually turn yellow and become less clear. In your 40s, focusing on
objects that are close up may become more difficult. Later, the colored
portions of your eyes (irises) stiffen, making your pupils less
responsive. This can make it more difficult to adapt to different
levels of light. Other changes to your lenses can make you sensitive to
glare, which presents a problem when driving at night. Cataracts,
glaucoma and macular degeneration are the most common problems of aging
Hearing loss is one of the most
common conditions affecting adults who are middle-aged and older. One
in three people older than 60 and half of all people older than 85 have
significant hearing loss. Over the years, sounds and noise can damage
the hair cells of your inner ears.
Also, the walls of your
auditory canals thin, and your eardrums thicken. You may have
difficulty hearing high frequencies. Some people find it difficult to
follow a conversation in a crowded room. Changes in the inner ear or in
the nerves attached to it, earwax buildup and various diseases can all
affect your hearing.
How your teeth and
gums respond to age depends on how well you've cared for them over the
years. But even if you're meticulous about brushing and flossing, you
may notice that your mouth feels drier and your gums have pulled back
(receded). Your teeth may darken slightly and become more brittle and
easier to break.
Most adults can keep their natural teeth all of
their lives. But with less saliva to wash away bacteria, your teeth and
gums become slightly more vulnerable to decay and infection. If you've
lost most or all of your natural teeth, you might use dentures or
dental implants as a replacement.
Some older adults experience
dry mouth (xerostomia), which can lead to tooth decay and infection.
Dry mouth can also make speaking, swallowing and tasting difficult.
Oral cancer is more common among older adults. Your dentist checks for
oral cancer when you go for regular cleanings and checkups.
Skin, nails and hair
age, your skin thins and becomes less elastic and more fragile. You'll
likely notice that you bruise more easily. Decreased production of
natural oils may make your skin drier and more wrinkled. Age spots can
occur, and skin tags are more common. Your nails grow at about half the
pace they once did. Your hair may gray and thin. In addition, you
likely perspire less — making it harder to stay cool in high
temperatures and putting you at increased risk of heat exhaustion and
How fast your skin ages depends on many factors. The
most significant factor is sun exposure over the years. The more sun
your skin has been exposed to, the more damage you may attain. Smoking
adds to skin damage, such as wrinkles. Skin cancer also is a concern as
you age. You have a 40 percent to 50 percent chance of getting skin
cancer at least once by the time you reach 65.
needs change little throughout adulthood. If you need six hours of
sleep nightly, chances are you'll always need six hours — give or take
30 minutes. However, as you age, you'll likely find that you sleep less
soundly, meaning you'll need to spend more time in bed to get the same
amount of sleep. By age 75, some people find that they're waking up
several times each night.
How long can you live?
longest documented human life span is 122 years. Though a life span
that long is rare, improvements in medicine, science and technology
during the last century have helped more people live longer, healthier
lives. If you were born in the early 1900s in the United States, your
life expectancy was only about 50 years. Today it's around 77.
if you're sure you've already done too much damage to yourself to hope
for a long life, think again. Researchers say it's never too late to
adopt a healthy lifestyle. For example, if you quit smoking now, your
risk of heart disease begins to fall almost immediately. Living a
healthy lifestyle can improve how you age. Eating a variety of fruits
and vegetables and getting out for a daily walk are ways you can begin
preparing now for your later years.
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