Age-Related Functional Decline and What it Means for Your Senior Loved Ones

As your senior loved one ages, you might begin to worry about their physical and mental health. You may notice that they struggle with simple tasks, or that their memory isn’t as sharp as it once was.

What you’re worrying about is a loss of their ability to care for themselves or be independent. Typically, these worries are brought on by deterioration in mobility and in ability to perform activities of daily living such as dressing, using the washroom, or taking a bath.

In this post we’ll cover more about functional decline, common types to recognize, what this means for your senior loved ones, and how to slow down or delay functional decline.

Functional Decline

When functional decline occurs as a result of aging, it’s referred to as “age-related functional decline.” This refers to the loss of physical and/or mental abilities due to the body and mind aging. Age-related functional decline usually occurs slowly over a period of time, or it can occur suddenly as as result of illness, infection, or catastrophic event. This can significantly affect the life of your aging loved one.  

Age-related functional decline occurs because as our cells age, their function begins to decline and slow. Older cells die to make room for new cells throughout our entire lives, however, they can only divide a limited number of times. While our cells naturally go through changes as we age, our lifestyle can have an affect on their overall health and ability to function. A Harvard Medical School article explains this further with tips for a longer life.

Age-related functional decline can be sped up if seniors are hospitalized for any illness or injury. During their hospital stay, seniors can be at risk of dehydration and malnutrition decreased mobility and loss of independence, decreased skin integrity, incontinence, falls, and medication errors or mismanagement.

For many seniors, a hospital stay necessitates continuing care after discharge. If your senior loved ones are ever hospitalized for an illness or a fall, create a hospital discharge plan with a social worker or discharge planner to ensure they continue getting the care they need to prevent further health decline and maintain independence.

Common Types of Age-Related Functional Decline

Age-related functional decline affects everyone differently. However, the most common types of issues that arise are decline in vision, hearing problems, trouble with balance, memory loss, other brain related issues, and weakened bones.

Regular visits with a doctor and quickly addressing any of these issues is crucial to overall functional maintenance of your senior loved one. For example, if your senior loved one starts to experience a decline in vision, seeing an eye doctor to rule out any medical issues and get glasses will help them continue to live their life normally and prevent further strain to their eyes.

Trouble with balance and weakened bones can be improved with regular exercise and calcium supplements as directed by physiotherapists and geriatric physicians. If your senior loved one is at risk of falling due to age-related functional decline, consult your geriatric care manager or primary care physician to determine if falls can be prevented by installing grab bars in the bathroom and using a walker for assistance.

Memory loss and other brain related issues are more difficult to improve or quickly address. Your senior loved ones should see their primary care physician about these issues and perform daily activities to engage their brains. Examples of engaging activities include gardening, Sudoku and other puzzles, and testing their recall.


What Age-Related Functional Decline Means for Your Loved Ones

If age-related functional decline happens gradually, you and your family will have time to speak with your senior loved one to create a plan for their future as they age (commonly known as Elder Care Planning). This time will allow you to develop a well thought out, collaborative, and individualized plan that is centered around your senior loved one’s wishes and care needs.

Examples of gradual decline includes hearing loss that can be mitigated with hearing aids, loss of mobility that can be maintained or improved with physical therapy, or vision loss that can be assisted with glasses. With these gradual changes, your family will have more time to adjust to the increasing needs of your aging senior loved ones.

However, sudden age-related functional decline can lead to a quick transition to or the need for unilateral decisions made for your aging senior loved ones. Without an elder care plan in place, sudden health changes can cause strain and stress on your immediate and extended family. This can potentially lead to disagreements on care needs and medical decisions between family members.

Whether your senior loved ones are experiencing gradual or sudden age-related functional decline, reach out to your family, friends, support networks, and experts for support and assistance as you navigate your aging senior loved ones’ care.

At Mavencare we have experience caring for aging seniors who have a range of health issues that are the result of age-related functional decline. Our care teams work with geriatric physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists, and many other senior health care experts to ensure we develop and execute custom care plans that suit your senior loved ones’ specific needs.


How to Delay Age-Related Functional Decline

We have already heard that exercise and a healthy diet are good for us, but emerging evidence now shows that a healthy and active lifestyle may also slow the rate of age-related functional decline.

If your senior loved one is already experiencing health issues related to aging, consult a doctor to understand their current health situation, understand their baseline function, and create exercise and diet plans that they can follow to improve their health and maintain their level of independence.


Everyone is aging a little bit every day, but watching your senior loved one age can cause you to worry about their physical and mental health.

Encourage your senior loved one to make healthier decisions and engage in activities on a regular basis. While it can be difficult to convince your senior loved one to make changes to their current daily routine. One strategy that can help is to make yourself part of the solution. Offer to join them for a healthy dinner, or cook something healthy to eat with them. Ask them to go for a talk and walk with you outside, or join them in their garden.

If you’re worried about your senior loved one and age-related functional decline, reach out to our senior care coordinators at any time to talk through an elder care plan and long-term care options that will suit your family’s needs.
We can be reached at 1-800-85-MAVEN. (1-800-856-2836)