As we watch our parents grow old, we start to notice that certain activities that were once part of their daily routine become more difficult for them to accomplish. We often aren’t fully aware of all the changes going on with our aging loved ones for a number of reasons. Seniors are not always comfortable talking about their decreasing health and so we wanted to discuss the types of changes you can expect from your loved one, and some steps you can take to help them age more comfortably.
We know that everyone ages differently, depending on their genes and the life they have lived make it hard to perfectly predict what will happen and when. This makes difficult to know for sure when these changes will happen. To make it easy we want to explore the major changes in the body and how you can help make the transition comfortable for our aging parents.
Bones & Joints
As we age, our digestive system absorbs less calcium from the foods we eat. This results in a loss in bone density and is responsible for the numerous problems that can come when seniors suffer a fall. What was once a bruise or sprain becomes a crack or break in the bone and results in a much greater recovery period or even permanent mobility issues.
Many seniors also start to experience worn-down ligaments and joints which is why they feel they aren’t able to move as freely or quickly as they once did. This is a result of living a long and active life and is part of every senior’s aging process.
There are two common bone and joint conditions that many seniors have to deal with. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to weaken and break easily, and is more common in women due to going through menopause. Arthritis is another common condition in adults and seniors, and can attack joints in any part of the body causing them to become stiff and difficult to use.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the discomfort from worn bones and joints is to increase calcium intake. While calcium is important throughout your entire life, it is important to remember how aging bodies don’t extract calcium from foods as easily and therefore you need to compensate for that. This can be done by drinking more milk or taking calcium supplements, and while this won’t cure your loved one of bone and joint discomfort, it can still reduce it enough to be manageable.
A change in vision is one of the first signs of aging, and starts when adults are in their 40s and steadily declines as age advances. A few changes the eyes go through are typically problems with focusing on objects that are close, having trouble seeing in dim light, having issues identifying colours or finding your eyes are becoming dry easier.
The most common eye conditions that seniors deal with are primarily presbyopia; the gradual decline of a person's ability to see close objects or small print, cataracts; which are cloudy parts of the eye that limit vision and glaucoma; caused by too much pressure from inside the eye. Many of the common eye conditions are a result of old age and parts of the eye having a harder time working as quickly as before.
Thankfully there exist a wide range of ways you can help your aging loved ones cope with the annoyance of decreasing sight. For those who love to read but have an increasingly difficult time reading smaller print, you can purchase a personal magnifying glass that comes equipped with its own light. You can find specific ones that can be held or attached to a table depending on the preference of your loved one.
It is also recommended that you regularly have you and your loved ones eyes checked for any of the above conditions as you will want to catch it as soon as possible.
While the eyes are the first sign of aging that we often notice in ourselves, one of the most obvious signs of aging that can be seen by everyone else is our skin. As you age your skin becomes more wrinkled and feels thinner; which is a result of the body losing its collagen and elastin over time. It is also been found that those who have spent a lifetime smoking will have more wrinkles than non-smokers due to its negative effects on elastin. This is also true for those who spent a lot of time in the sun over the years with limited protection. The overexposure of sun in seniors can typically be identified via brown spots on the skin.
In addition to the visual changes in skin in seniors, there are also a lot of changes happening under the surface. As skin gets thinner and nerves get weaker, the body has a harder time transferring heat outside of the body which is why many seniors have problems cooling down which increases their chance of heat related issues. Also, because of the weaker nerve endings, seniors are often less sensitive to pain and pressure which results in more injuries that they aren’t aware were happening.
There exist three common medical skin conditions that seniors may need to deal with as they age. While many skin conditions can happen throughout your adult life, it increases steadily in the elderly. Skin cancer is naturally the biggest concern as it's the most common form in cancer in North America. Shingles is a condition that specifically targets the nerves and causes a great deal of pain. Shingles can happen throughout your adult life but is most common in seniors. Lastly, dry skin is something that can be easily identified and has a number of methods to reduce the discomfort that come from it.
Skin care is a massive industry that is constantly generating new products that deal with the various skin conditions that adults and seniors have to deal with. If you notice a loved one could use some skin care, help them get into the routine of exfoliating and moisturizing daily with products that promote collagen production and overall skin thickening. It is also a great idea to make sure seniors wear sunscreen daily, even if they are only out for a short amount of time.
The human brain is truly the most remarkable part of our body, and even while the rest of the body has trouble aging, the brain continues to work well for the majority of seniors. While it's been found that the brain cells decrease over time, it works quite well at compensating for that loss. Throughout our life our brain produces more cells than required to complete our daily tasks, so the effects of losing brain cells as we age isn’t usually apparent until seniors are over 80.
Even though the brain is great at healing itself and compensating for its gradual brain cell loss, it is susceptible to serious brain conditions that can cause persistent issues that make aging incredibly difficult for seniors and those who are caring for an elderly family member. The most common brain condition in seniors is dementia, with the leading form of dementia being Alzheimer’s, and is a result of brain cells progressively dying as you age. This results in limited short-term memory and difficulty retaining existing long-term memories. Forms of dementia are what makes it hardest to care for our loved ones as they become frustrated as they find it difficult to remember details about their daily lives and relationships. Serious forms of dementia often come after the result of a stroke, head injury or brain tumor.
While progressive brain cell degradation is a part of life, there still exists many ways to overcome and possibly avoid this part of aging. In the past people assumed that forgetfulness and confusion were just a part of aging, but now science is realizing that seniors can still be alert and active as they age, even if they have some trouble remembering. The easiest way to achieve this is to ensure your aging loved one is staying mentally and socially active. The importance of physical activity in seniors is no mystery, but seniors should be enjoying just as much activity to stimulate their brain as well. This can help the brain compensate for the progressive loss of brain cells and ensure your loved one can always remember their time with you and your family.
Aging is a part of life and as society moves forward, we are constantly finding new ways to ease the process and allow our seniors to enjoy life. Hopefully we have helped bring awareness to many common signs of aging in seniors and provided ways you can help them age comfortably.