The aging process occurs during an individual’s lifespan, and none of us can escape it. When we are young, aging is associated with growth, maturation and discovery. Many human abilities peak before the age of 30, while others continue to develop through life.
Some people begin to experience changes that are perceived as signs of decline or deterioration sooner than others. We must try, however, to look beyond the stereotypes and look at older people as unique individuals, each with a particular set of resources and issues.
Study of Aging Process – Understanding Normal Aging
The changes we experience as we age are not necessarily harmful. As we grow older, our hair thins and turns gray, skin thins, becomes less elastic and sags and so on. Functions gradually slow down through adulthood, until bodily organs lose their functions.
In the gastrointestinal system, for instance, the production of digestive enzymes diminishes, reducing the body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrition from food. Such losses may not be noticeable until later in life, but they occur nonetheless.
According to scientists, aging likely results from a combination of many factors. Genes, disease and lifestyle can all affect the rate of aging, and studies have shown that people age at different rates and in different ways.
Normal aging brings a range of changes, including:
- Eyesight – as people age, they experience a loss of peripheral vision and decreased ability to judge depth, as well as a decreased clarity of colors (pastels and blues, for instance).
- Hearing – loss of hearing acuity, particularly sounds at the higher end of the spectrum, as well as a decreased ability to distinguish sounds through background noise.
- Touch and Smell – decreased sensitivity to touch and ability to smell.
- Taste – decreased taste buds and saliva.
- Arteries – arteries stiffen with age, and fatty deposits build up in the blood vessels over time, eventually causing arteriosclerosis – hardening of the arteries.
- Bladder – increased frequency in urination.
- Body Fat – increases until middle age, stabilizes for a while, then decreases, shifting its distribution of fat from just beneath the skin to surround deeper organs.
- Bones – usually around the age of 35, bones start losing minerals faster than they are able to replace them.
- Heart – the heart muscle thickens with age, and also diminishes its maximum pumping rate and the body’s ability to extract oxygen from the blood.
- Brain – with age, the brain loses some of the structures that connect nerve cells, and the function of the cells themselves is diminished, hence the famous “senior moments”.
- Lungs – lung tissue begins to lose its elasticity somewhere around age 20, while rib cage muscles shrink progressively. With each decade of life, maximum breathing capacity diminishes.
- Kidneys – shrink and become less efficient.
- Metabolism – as we age, our metabolism can no longer process medicines and alcohol as quickly as it used to, and our reflexes are slowed.
- Muscles – muscle mass declines, especially with a sedentary lifestyle
- Skin – skin is more dry and wrinkled and takes longer to heal, nails grow more slowly.
- Sexual Health – women go through menopause, vaginal lubrication decreases and sexual tissues atrophy, while men experience a sperm production decrease and prostate enlargement. Hormone levels decrease as well.
In addition, the aging process also brings social and emotional change and loss. Fortunately, the physical aging process can be influenced in several ways. Excess capacity is built into the human system, and the numerous changes that take place over the years can be strongly influenced by exercise levels and other lifestyle characteristics.
Besides hereditary or genetic influences, people who live in areas with particularly long life expectancy have the following characteristics:
- Dietary and Nutritional Factors – diets are typically low in animal fats and high in vegetables and whole grains.
- Moderate Consumption of Alcohol – while some alcohol is consumed, alcoholism is uncommon.
- Physical Activity Throughout Life
- Sexual Activity in Later Years
- Social Involvement – strong community life
- Physical Environment – free from pollutants