Elderly Health Care

5 Common Physical Changes Associated with Aging

As much as we know about human biology, scientists have yet to provide a concise explanation for why the human body starts to deteriorate after a certain age. Beginning around age 35, humans begin experiencing subtle physical changes associated with aging that do not become readily noticeable until age 45 or 50. Biologists do understand that these intrinsic changes affect mechanisms meant to maintain a cell’s health but are not sure what triggers this reduction in cell metabolism.

Because human physiology experiences a gradual shutting-down of all systems during the aging process, all humans are affected by five common physical changes associated with aging that mainly affect sensory organs and their systems.

  1. Hearing: In addition to hearing, the inner ear also helps maintain our balance. As we age, functioning of the eardrum and its various structures starts to deteriorate because of the thickening of the tiny bones comprising the eardrum. This affects fluid balance as well, which is why elderly people easily lose their balance. Individuals older than 55 may also experience problems with hearing high-pitched sounds, a condition known as presbycusis. In addition to a slow but progressive decline in auditory nerve functioning, the aging brain becomes less efficient at decoding sounds into comprehensible information resulting from signal reduction in the temporal lobe. Hearing problems due to aging may also be attributed to accumulation of impacted ear wax as well.
  2. Vision: People in their 40s may begin to notice problems with vision that they may not have experienced in the past. This is because the eye’s lens is not as flexible as it once was and lacks the ability to quickly accommodate focusing on objects from a distance. Peripheral vision is also curtailed due to reduced eyeball flexibility, causing older people to turn their heads in order to see objects appearing at the side of them. Cataracts may also start forming and eventually need to be surgically removed as well. The ability to see certain colors also decreases, with green and blue becoming more difficult to discern than orange, red, and yellow. Age-related macular degeneration is another common vision problem afflicting senior citizens, causing blurry or restricted vision due to weakening blood vessels.
  3. Smell and Taste: While aging tends to cause some sensory reduction in most people, the degree of smell and taste loss is dependent on several factors. Chronic smokers will experience more smell and taste problems as they age than those who do not smoke. Other conditions such as poor oral hygiene, untreated allergies, nasal polyps, medications, and early onset of Alzheimer’s disease can produce noticeable loss in smelling and tasting ability. In addition, optimal functioning of olfactory nerves help to enhance taste so when olfactory bulb fibers start to disappear during the aging process, taste is affected as well.
  4. Skin Sensitivity: As we age, the skin becomes, drier, less elastic, and noticeably more wrinkled because of decreased collagen production. The efficiency of blood circulation diminishes also, causing sensitivity to cold. Dwindling sweat gland production further exacerbates dry skin that already lacks sufficient collagen to prevent the easy tearing of the skin that many seniors experience. Additionally, thinning skin no longer protected by an insulating layer of fat and capillaries that break easily combine to produce the large, purplish bruising common to older individuals.
  5. Stiffening Joints: Aging processes affecting cellular functioning inhibits calcium and mineral absorption by the skeleton, resulting in decreased bone density. Joint fluid called synovial fluid is not as plentiful and is frequently affected by medical conditions common to older people such as arthritis or osteoporosis. Spinal vertebrae start to grind against each other as the tissues in between them gradually become desiccated and harden. This causes those over 60 to lose height and bend over slightly when standing or walking. Even the arch of the foot loses flexibility and begins to straighten, which contributes to a shorter height