What is normal ageing ?
Normal ageing is a myth. Ageing is a variable phenomenon that affects different individuals differently. The gradual wear and tear of any machinery depends on how well it has been maintained and taken care of. Till our youth the organs are growing and the regenerative capacity of our body organs is very active. But post youth the normal consequence of growth is the regenerative capacity decreases drastically because of genetic programming of cell death and the external environmental influences, which may hasten the process. The cell death lead to decreased capability to handle the environmental stress in return. The way we live, our diet, physical activity and the stress both physical and psychological causes a string of events in our body that would in the long run would determine the rate of decline in our normal functions. Added to this would be the illnesses that start appearing in the in the middle age and increase the burden of ageing on the life quality.
What are the various changes that occur with ageing?
Various organs show different physiological changes during ageing. The table below summaries the changes in a nutshell.
|Skin||Skin becomes less elastic and more lined and wrinkled. Nail growth slows. The oil glands gradually produce less oil, making the skin drier than before.|
|Hair||Gradually become thinner. As hair pigment cells decline, grey hair growth increases|
|Face||Wrinkles, facial hair, bags under the eyes, double chin, longer ears, thinning cheek.|
|Hearing||High-frequency sounds become harder to hear and changes in tone and speech less clear especially after 50.|
|Vision||Lenses in the eyes become less flexible (presbyopia). Night vision and visual sharpness to decline.|
|Nose||Ability to smell declines after age 65, amount of reduction varies widely between individuals.|
|Height||By age 80, it’s common to have lost as much as 2 in. (5 cm) in height, posture and compression of joints, spinal bones, and spinal discs.|
|Body Weight||Weight declines between age 55 and 75, due mostly to loss of lean tissue, muscle mass, water, and bone.|
|Fat||Fat content and distribution change, storage increases|
|Sleep||Less sleep at night, and you may not sleep as deeply as you did when you were younger. Frequent midnight and early morning awakenings.|
|Brain||Gradual loss of brain tissue ( 5-10% by age 90), slow reaction, faltering memory, insomnia. Mental and physical responses to specific stimuli become slower.|
|Heart||Thickening of heart wall, gradual loss of effectiveness as a pumping machine.|
|Lungs||Lose elasticity and capacity (40% between ages 20 and 80), increasing difficulty to oxygenate blood.|
|Joints||Cartilage becomes cracks and frays, cushioning fluid gets thinner, tendons and ligaments are less resilient.|
|Bones||Loss of bone cells accelerates at about age 35, bones become porous and brittle in the demineralizing process. Osteoporosis is common in women.|
|Metabolism and body composition.||Over time, the body typically needs less energy, and your metabolism slows. Hormone changes in the ageing body result in a shift to more body fat and less muscle mass.|
|Abnormal Growth||Cancers, hyperplasia, and macromolecular aggregates become common.|
|Arteries||Cholesterol and calcium buildup, walls thicken, arteries harden, high blood pressure, risk of heart attack.|
|Blood||White blood cell and red blood cell count decrease.|
|Kidneys||Weight & volume of the kidneys shrink, marked reduction in the cleansing of impurities from the blood.|
|Bladder||Connective tissue weaken, lower capacity to store urine, and reduced efficiency of emptying content.|
|Prostate||Reduction in semen making after 60, enlargement in size may cause difficulty to urinate.|
|Women go through menopause at ages of 45 – 50, reduced level of estrogen affects the whole body. Men’s reproductive change with age is more like a reduction than a cessation.|
|Breast||Mammary (milk secreting) glands reduce in size, as does the breast.|
|Hormones||The level of several hormones, e.g., GH, DHEA, IGF falls with age, may be a major cause on ageing.|
|Immunity||Body’s power to combat infection declines; autoimmune responses increase.|
|Muscles||Loss of muscular mass, partly due to un-use, other causes include loss of blood flow and energy supply.|
|Nerve||Demyelination – loss of myelin covering of nerve fibers, which is characteristic of neurological disorders.|
|Voice||Voice becomes weak and muffle|
|Tongue||Sense of taste loses only gradually with age, with equal reduction of all flavors.|
|Teeth||Teeth gum recession|
|Thermoregulation||Response to changes in environmental temperature becomes impaired.|
What is Healthy ageing?
Healthy ageing is a way of lifestyle that may partially neutralise the deleterious effects of ageing leading to a productive life for a longer life span. Even though genetic influences cannot be completely neutralised but the environment we create around us do influence the gene expression even when we are not able to appreciate those changes immediately in our body. Even minor changes in our lifestyle may lead to a happier and more satisfactory old age.
What is the role of preventive healthcare in healthy ageing?
Preventive health care means actively intervening in the process of ageing to look for illnesses, disabilities and stressful conditions so that they may be rectified at an early stage by lifestyle interventions. It is a mindset that dynamically evaluates a lifestyle in terms of its long-term consequences both good or bad and finding where the problem lies and thereafter looking for the achievable solutions according to the individual’s circumstances. This in the long term would decrease the load of chronic diseases in the old age and decreasing the economic burden due to health concerns of an individual and thence of a society.
Stay healthy and stay ageless…