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How Our Bodies Change as We Age

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenFebruary 11, 2016

It is no secret that the human body changes over time. Both genetics and lifestyle play a huge role in how we age. Read about some of the most common ways our bodies change, below.

Minor aches and pains inevitably come with the passing of time. No matter how hard we try to stay young, our bodies’ cells change and the aging process occurs. Since we haven’t found a fountain of youth, it’s important to learn what to expect from normal aging for both awareness and preventative health information. Knowledge of these changes can also help reduce stress and anxiety to help educate about these normal body changes as our health declines.

12 Ways Our Bodies Change as We Age

A Place for Mom expert and geriatrician, Leslie Kernisan, MD, provides some guidance on some of the body’s changes as we age:

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“Being in tune with our bodies and using preventative health and awareness to take care of our bodies is very helpful with the aging process. What is normal aging is for all the body’s cellular function to peak in your 20s, and then slowly decline thereafter. Generally this means that as we get into our sixties, our skin is noticeably looser, our blood vessels are a little stiffer, and our joints feel creakier. Inner processes, such as immune system function, also work less well as we age. On the other hand, although brain volume declines as we age and processing speed has gone down by our sixties, older adults often maintain a good ability to tap into ‘crystallized intelligence,’ which is less about raw processing speed and more about leveraging experience, insight, and judgement.”

While insight and wisdom are the silver lining of aging, it’s also important to be aware of normal changes. Read about some of the most common health changes below to know what to expect with each passing year:

1. Skin

Skin loses elasticity with age and becomes thinner, more fragile and prone to bruising. Wrinkles and age spots appear on people at different ages, depending on genetics, exposure to the sun and overall health. But most people start to see some wrinkles appear in their 30s and progressively get more extensive with each passing decade. Decreased natural skin oil can also cause skin to become more dry and itchy.

2. Bones, Joints and Muscles

Since our bones lose density and strength with age — and often shrink — they are more prone to fractures. Muscles mass also shrinks and people get weaker; especially if they don’t exercise on a regular basis. Normal wear and tear can instigate pain and inflammation in the joints which also make them less flexible.

3. Mobility

Balance problems often occur with age as a result of bone, joint and muscle changes, in addition to nervous system changes. The synapse firing and connections in our bodies are not working at quite the same level as they did when we were younger, making mobility a little more cumbersome. Hearing loss can also contribute to balance loss. All of these changes make us more prone to falling, which can result in further damage to bruising and fractures.

4. Metabolism and Body Shape

As our bones changes with age, it is only normal that shrinking is part of the process. Spine curvature can occur and reduced muscle mass in addition to a slowed metabolism can lead to more difficult weight management. Hormonal changes are a normal part of aging, and most women go through menopause in their 40s. Metabolism of sugar and carbohydrates changes can lead to diabetes, and metabolisms of fat, cholesterol, calcium and vitamin D are often altered, making supplements and diet plans necessary. Thyroid function can also decline, causing weight management issues.

5. Teeth and Gum

With the loss of bone mass, teeth become weaker and more brittle, making good oral hygiene even more crucial. Gum recession is normal and less saliva is produced by the oral glands, which can result in the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth infections
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth loss
  • Gum disease

6. Hair and Nails

Hair and nails become weaker with age. Hair becomes thinner and nails can get dry and brittle. Toenails can become thick and lose their shape, making it important to keep up with nail cutting hygiene. Nail fungal infections are also common.

7. Memory

Memory retrieval problems are common in the elderly, making forgetfulness quite normal.  Many people associate these memory problems with dementia, which may or may not be related. This is why it’s important to see a health professional to see whether memory problems are a normal part of aging or a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

8. Immune System

Our immune systems become weaker with age which increases our risk of infection. Getting enough sleep and physical activity helps our immune system function better.

9. Hearing

Changes in hearing properly, especially higher frequencies, become more difficult with age. Our nerves and ear structures inevitably change, making hearing more challenging.

10. Vision

Eyes get drier with age and the lens can also lose focus, making vision blurry or out of focus. Glasses and/or contact lenses often help with these symptoms.

11. Smell and Taste

As we get older, our olfactory function declines, affecting our sense of smell and sometimes taste.

12. Bowel and Bladder

Incontinence is common with aging. Constipation, urinary frequency and difficulty initiating urine can be especially frustrating for seniors.

Preventative Medicine to Help with Aging

Healthy habits and lifestyle are our biggest advocate to good health. Dr. Kernisan discusses what we should have our doctors’ assess after age 65:

The guidelines for the Medicare Annual Wellness visit are pretty good and describe what doctors should assess. I think it’s especially important to review medications, with an eye towards spotting those that are risky for brain health or otherwise are on the Beer’s list. Don’t let the doctor just list them. You want to go over them and make sure each is still benefiting your health and isn’t too risky.

It’s also good for doctors to check on common senior health problems that can really affect quality of life or safety, such as falls, incontinence, and depression. Otherwise, your sixties are a great time to work on healthy habits that will support you as you get older, such as exercising regularly, learning to manage stress or sleep without medication, losing a little weight if indicated and eating a healthy diet.”

To help older parents with healthy aging, it’s not enough to focus on a healthy lifestyle. You also need to check for often missed — and mismanaged — problems that affect countless people aged 60 and over. Read Kernisan’s article, “7 Commonly Neglected Problems to Address for Healthier Aging” for more information on healthy aging.

How have you or your loved one been affected by aging? Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Dana Larsen
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