Aging: What’s normal and what’s not?
Admit it. You want to stay young forever. Look young. Act young. Why not? That’s why we dye our hair, buy wrinkle-reducing lotions and wear sunblock. Or try to remember to wear sunblock.
Sometime after 65, we might start to notice some natural and inevitable signs of aging on the inside as well as the outside. Some are normal signs; some may be signs of a serious issue.
Normal signs of aging:
- Thirst decreases. You not only feel less thirsty but the amount of water in your body also decreases. That puts you at greater risk of dehydration.
- Your senses decline: taste, smell, hearing, vision and touch. Losing your sense of smell and taste can decrease your appetite. Losing your sense of touch can sometimes cause falling because you don’t feel your feet make contact with the ground.
- Your skin becomes thinner and less elastic. As a result, you bruise more easily and develop wrinkles. Blood vessels become fragile because the skin loses some of the protective fatty layer that helps cushion the vessels from injury. Blood vessels can burst more easily when you fall or bump into a wall or furniture, for example.
- Bones become less dense. You lose more bone than you build. Bones can become weaker, putting you at risk of breaking bones.
- Muscles decrease in size. Having less muscle can lead to frailty, which can make you susceptible to falling.
Sometimes the changes that happen in our later years are signs of a serious issue.
Abnormal signs of aging:
- A wound that’s not healing could be a sign of diabetes.
- Numbness in body parts could indicate diabetes, medication side effects or a problem with your metabolism.
- Slurred or garbled speech could indicate a stroke.
- Recurring falls could be a sign of dementia or Parkinson’s disease.
- Memory loss could be a sign of dementia. The older you get, the less you can multitask, learn new material and remember names and dates. But when you’re unable to perform daily tasks of living, such as how to use a toothbrush or get dressed, being tested for dementia may be necessary.
My healthiest patients exercise, drink a lot of water, have well-balanced diets, keep their minds active, socialize regularly and take few, if any, medications. They don’t smoke at all or drink much, and they’re generally happy. For some, you’d be very surprised to know they’re in their 80s.