Normal Aging…Is There Such a Thing?

     We all have our own ideas about what constitutes normal aging, but then we also wonder if that new ache or inability or recent fall is cause for concern. Dr. Thomas Gill, a geriatric professor at Yale University, along with three geriatric experts drew on their decades of practice along with the latest medical data to help identify what are often considered signposts of normal aging.  They came up with a guide for folks who practice good health habits and get recommended preventive care along the way.  Dr. Gill acknowledged that “the physiological changes that occur with aging are not abrupt but happen over a continuum as the reserve capacity in almost every organ system declines. Think of it, crudely, as a fuel tank in a car. As you age, that reserve of fuel is diminished.”
While you can find a link here to the full article written by Bruce Horovitz in Kaiser Health News, and I would encourage you to click and read it because it is much more informative, the Cliff Notes version would be this: 50’s: Stamina Declines
     While our muscles have strong regenerative capacity, many of our organs and tissues can only decline, Dr. Gill said.  Dr. Kritchevsky, epidemiologist, also pointed out that cognitive processing speeds typically slow down starting in the 50’s. “I feel I can’t spin quite as many plates at the same time as I used to,” say Dr. Kritchevsky. Physically, things take a bit longer to get done.
60’s: Susceptibility Increases
     There is a greater risk to seniors of illnesses that are preventable like flu, pneumonia and shingles. Hearing loss is common, especially among men. The odds of some form of dementia doubles every 5 years beginning at age 65. While it’s hardly dementia, people in their 60s will see a slowing of information retrieval.
70’s: Chronic Conditions Fester
     Chronic conditions like hypertension or diabetes or even dementia often take hold. “People in their 70s are losing bone and muscle mass, which makes them more likely to sustain a serious injury in a fall. This is a pivotal decade for physical functioning,” says Dr. Kritchevsky.  Another conundrum common to the 70s: people tend to take an increasing number of medications.  But these are likely to have side effects on their own or in combination.  Our kidneys and liver may not tolerate the meds as well. While the 70’s are a pivotal decade for physical functioning, perhaps the biggest impact is emotional.  Dr. Reuben, chief of geriatrics at UCLA, said “perhaps the biggest challenge in your 70’s is to make your life as meaningful as it was when you were working.”
80’s: Fear of Falling Grows
    About 40% of folks over 65 will fall at least once each year, and about 1 in 40 of them will be hospitalized. The risk increases with age and the emotional and physical blowback from a fall has a significant impact in the 80s. By age 80, folks are more likely to spend time in the hospital – often due to procedures like hip and knee replacements. Because of diminished reserve capacities, it’s also tougher to recover from surgery or illness in your 80s.
90s & Up: Relying on Others
     By age 90, people have roughly a 1-in-3 chance of exhibiting signs of dementia.  The best strategy to fight dementia isn’t mental activity but at least 150 minutes per week of ‘moderate’ physical activity such as brisk walking.  The toughest thing about being in your 90s (says a subject of the study) is the time and thought often required to do even the simplest things.  At the same time most older people seem to be more satisfied with their lives than are younger people, per Dr.Kritchevsky.

We all age in different ways, but knowing how to do so well, is half the battle to successful aging.  By using this quick guideline, we can ascertain if we are “aging normally” or if there is truly something worthy of additional attention. There is more information in the full article along with stories from various seniors.  Please take the time to read it! Our thanks to Bruce Horovitz for his timely article in the Kaiser Health News.

Vickie Sheppard
Executive Director

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