Thanks to advances in public health and medicine, there are over 31 million people over the age of 65 alive today. Though most men and women don’t see their age as a limitation in their day to day activities, as they climb past the 65-year mark, their bodies begin to change and they may find themselves cutting out activities they previously enjoyed.
As we age our bodies can change dramatically from year to year; just think back to puberty and how much your own body changed over a few short years. Although most of us don’t realize the few subtle changes that happen in our bodies, we do notice the changes that make our lives more challenging from day to day. This quick reference offers a preview of body changes yet to come:
We all accept that getting older is inevitable, and now leading clinicians have revealed the exact age when different body parts start to decline, most alarming being the brain and lungs. French doctors have found that the quality of mens sperm starts to deteriorate by 35, so that by the time a man is 45 a third of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Here, with the help of leading clinicians,Angela Epstein tells the Daily Mail the ages when different parts of the body start to lose their battle with time.
BRAIN – Starts aging at 20: As we get older, the number of nerve cells – or neurons – in the brain decrease. We start with around100 billion, but in our 20s this number starts to decline. By 40, we could be losing up to 10,000 per day, affecting memory, co-ordination and brain function.
GUT – Starts aging at 55.:A healthy gut has a good balance between harmful and ‘friendly’ bacteria. But levels of friendly bacteria in the gut drop significantly after 55, particularly in the large intestine, says Tom MacDonald, professor of immunology at Barts And The London medical school. As a result, we suffer from poor digestion and an increased risk of gut disease. Constipation is more likely as we age, as the flow of digestive juices from the stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine slows down.
BREASTS – Start aging at 35: BY their mid-30s,woman’s breasts start losing tissue and fat, reducing size and fullness. Sagging starts properly at 40 and the aureole (the area surrounding the nipple) can shrink considerably.
BLADDER – Starts aging at 65:Loss of bladder control is more likely when you hit 65. Women are more vulnerable to bladder problems as, after the menopause, declining estrogen levels make tissues in the urethra – the tube through which urine passes – thinner and weaker, reducing bladder support. Bladder capacity in an older adult generally is about half that of a younger person – about two cups in a 30-year-old and one cup in a70-year-old….
LUNGS – Start aging at 20: Lung capacity slowly starts to decrease from the age of 20. By the age of 40, some people are already experiencing breathlessness. This is partly because the muscles and the rib cage which control breathing stiffen up.
VOICE – Starts aging at 65: Our voices become quieter and hoarser with age. The soft tissues in the voice box (larynx) weaken, affecting the pitch, loudness and quality of the voice. A woman’s voice may become huskier and lower in pitch, whereas a man’s might become thinner and higher.
EYES – Start aging at 40: Glasses are the norm for many over-40s as failing eyesight kicks in – usually long-sightedness, affecting our ability to see objects up close.
HEART – Starts aging at 40: The heart pumps bloodless effectively around the body as we get older. This is because blood vessels become less elastic, while arteries can harden or become blocked because of fatty deposits forming on the coronary arteries – caused by eating too much saturated fat. The blood supply to the heart is then reduced, resulting in painful angina. Men over 45 and women over 55 are at greater risk of a heart attack.
LIVER – Starts aging at 70: This is the only organ in the body which seems to defy the aging process.
KIDNEYS – Starts aging at 50: With kidneys, the number of filtering units (nephrons) that remove waste from the blood stream starts to reduce in middle age.
PROSTATE – Starts aging at 50: The prostate often becomes enlarged with age, leading to problems such as increased need to urinate, says Professor Roger Kirby, director of the Prostate Center in London .This is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia and affects half of men over 50,but rarely those under 40. It occurs when the prostate absorbs large amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone, which increases the growth of cells in the prostate. A normal prostate is the size of a walnut, but the condition can increase this to the size of a tangerine.
BONES – Start aging at 35: ‘Throughout our life, old bone is broken down by cells called osteoclasts and replaced by bone-building cells called osteoblasts – a process called bone turnover,’ explains Robert Moots, professor of rheumatology at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool . Childrens bone growth is rapid – the skeleton takes just two years to renew itself completely. In adults, this can take ten years. Until our mid-20s, bone density is still increasing. But at 35 bone loss begins as part of the natural aging process.
TEETH – Start aging at 40: As we age, we produce less saliva, which washes away bacteria, so teeth and gums are more vulnerable to decay. Receding gums – when tissue is lost from gums around the teeth – is common in adults over 40.
MUSCLES – Start aging at 30: Muscle is constantly being built up and broken down, a process which is well balanced in young adults. However, by the time we’re 30, breakdown is greater than buildup,explains Professor Robert Moots. Once adults reach 40, they start to lose between 0.5 and 2 per cent of their muscle each year. Regular exercise can help prevent this.
HEARING – Starts aging mid-50s: More than half of people over 60 lose hearing because of their age, according to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.
SKIN – Starts aging mid-20s: The skin starts to age naturally in your mid-20s.
TASTE AND SMELL – Start aging at 60: We start out in life with about 10,000 taste buds scattered on the tongue. This number can halve later in life. After we turn 60, taste and smell gradually decline, partly as a result of the normal aging process.
FERTILITY- Starts aging at 35: Female fertility begins to decline after 35, as the number and quality of eggs in the ovaries start to fall. The lining of the womb may become thinner, making it less likely for a fertilized egg to take, and also creating an environment hostile to sperm.
HAIR – Starts aging at 30: Male hair loss usually begins in the 30s. Hair is made in tiny pouches just under the skin’s surface, known as follices. A hair normally grows from each follicle for about three years, is then shed, and a new hair grows. Most people will have some grey hair by the age of 35. When we are young, our hair is coloured by the pigments produced by cells in the hair follicle known as melanocytes.
Looking at this sneak peek of the future can be a little overwhelming; but think of what everyone over the age of 65 tells you, “life begins at 60”. That statement is at least encouraging! The downside of aging is of course the limitations we will face, but there is one limitation in particular that is very important to address: falling.
Various sources claim that one third of the elderly population (over the age of 65) fall each year, and this risk increases proportionately with age, telling us that at 80 years over half of our seniors suffer a fall annually. Even more upsetting, those who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again, and falls are now known to be the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly (87% of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls). Many injuries can occur in a fall; cuts, bruises, hip, hand, or pelvic fractures, and head-trauma are the most commonly reported. Although not all falls result in injuries, many of the elderly who fall and are not injured (as many as 47%), cannot get up without assistance. For those unable to get up without assistance, they may suffer serious harm while immobilized. The period of time they are left on the ground can affect their bodies and their health- muscle cell breakdown begins within 30-60 minutes of compression due to falling, and other potential dangers are; dehydration, pressure sores, hypothermia, and pneumonia. Getting off the floor quickly improves their chance of survival by 80%.
Falls in the elderly are very common, making up 25% of all hospital admissions, 40% of all nursing home admissions and 25% of these fallers die within a year of that fall. After hearing these statistics, it is no wonder why so many elderly people fear falling. Of those surveyed, 30% of seniors admit to the fear of falling; 30-50% of seniors said that the fear of another fall has severely lowered their confidence and forced them to self-impose restrictions on activity. 90% of falls that do not result in physical injury still have a detrimental effect on well-being, reducing the activity of many seniors; this reduction in activity unfortunately increases the risk of suffering another fall.
Nearly half of the reported cases of falling took place within the senior’s home, and many other falls take place in close proximity to the home. Many of us assume that these falls take place on stairs, but this is not the case, most falls occur on the level walking surfaces. Many reported falls are caused by tripping while walking, slipping on wet or tiled surfaces, or falling over cluttered areas, such as stacked magazines in a hallway or discarded shoes near the foot of the bed.
Because the fear of falling can weigh heavily on a person’s mind, they will sometimes become inactive, or limit the activities they once enjoyed. This type of self-imposed limiting only increases the likelihood of a fall. There are many ways to prevent falls and to increase confidence in our elderly, and in ourselves as we age. Exercising daily can reduce the chance of falling and increase confidence as well as improve health. The exercises done by seniors should focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance, to reduce the likelihood that these areas of their body will fail during day-to-day activity. Exercises as simple as a daily walk around the block, will greatly increase energy, strength, reflexes, and may even boost mood.
It is also important to regularly visit with a doctor to screen for osteoporosis, which can increase the chance of falling, and increase the risk of serious injury if a fall occurs. Another important visit is with an eye doctor, to keep eye glass prescriptions up to date- unseen obstacles can be avoided with a proper eyeglass prescription.
Another important step in avoiding falls is maintaining a safe home life. Reduce tripping hazards in your home and keep small items off of the floor. If necessary, add “grab bars” and railings around areas of the home that may need them- such as the bathroom or stairwell. Improving the lighting in your home is helpful for all ages, proper lighting can help you to see clearly to avoid a fall or a 3am shin bump on the way to the bathroom.
If you have an elderly family member, or friend in your life, have an action plan in case of falls. Find out if they carry a cell-phone, or if they have a life-alert alarm system to call for help if they do fall, and learn how to get up from a fall if it happens. Having a way to call for help could literally mean life or death.
Here are a few excellent resources:
Provides action plans, and information:
Helpful checklist to prevent fall occurrences:
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