What Happens to Us as We Age

Headstrong - Fri, 20 Apr 2007

We all get older so it is important to know what is a normal part of the aging process and what is not.

Aging is much more than wrinkles, middle-aged spread and increasing aches and pains. Much of the effects of aging are internal, and these are the most critical. Your cardiovascular system becomes less efficient as you age, as the heart muscle doesn’t pump as vigorously. On top of this, the blood vessels lose elasticity, and at the same time fatty deposits accumulate on the arteries’ walls (known as atherosclerosis), narrowing the space for blood to flow through. All these factors combined mean that the heart muscle has to work harder to pump the volume of blood around the body that it needs.This can result in hypertension or high blood pressure, which can cause cardiac arrest, a stroke, and other serious injuries.

Our bodies change as we grow older but a healthy lifestyle can help slow down the process.Our bones are at maximum density between the ages of 25 and 35 years; after this they gradually lose density and shrink. This can reduce your height and make your stance stooped. You can also be more susceptible to fractures, particularly if you develop the age-related bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. This risk of fractures is increased by a greater chance of falling as people become less steady on their feet. This can be because of the loss of strength and flexibility in muscles, joints and tendons.

The digestion system also becomes less efficient as we age.Both swallowing and peristalsis, the rhythmic movement of food through the digestive tract, slow down as people grow older. The surface area inside the intestines may reduce slightly making absorption of nutrients less efficient.Also the digestive secretions from the stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas tend to decrease. This doesn’t usually cause serious health problems,but may result in constipation.

The kidneys become less efficient at removing wastes from the bloodstream with progressive aging. This decline may be exacerbated by some medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and also some prescription medications.

Around 30% of people aged over 65 can suffer urinary incontinence. Risk factors include obesity, frequent constipation, and a chronic cough. Women have a greater chance of developing incontinence. During menopause stress incontinence can occur due to weakening of the bladder’s sphincter muscles, causing changes in the bladder reflex. Declining estrogen levels can thin the tissue lining of the urethra causing leaking of urine, and pelvic muscles may become weaker, thereby reducing bladder support. Older men with an enlarged prostate may suffer incontinence due to a blocked urethra, and those who have their prostate removed may also be incontinent.

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