By: Dr. Mervin Wallace, TPCA Family and Geriatric Medicine Physician
Most people reach their peak functioning at around age 30. Many adults who are over 65 are therefore not surprised when some body function is not what it was at 30. I am however quite often faced with a question by one of my older patients about a new symptom, skin appearance or a change in a sensation that seems to have just appeared from nowhere. The issue is often explainable and a popular response I get is “getting old is not for whimps” or something like that.
ALL body systems go through gradual change as we get older. The changes aging individuals experience are not necessarily harmful. With age, hair thins and turns gray. Skin thins, becomes less elastic, and sags. There is a slowing down of functions which goes forward throughout adulthood – loss of function of bodily organs. We’re getting older and our bodies are changing. We may grow a little rounder around the waistline, or wake in the night, or feel a little stiffer in the morning. These things are normal.
We shouldn’t think of aging as a failure of our bodily systems, says Kenneth Minaker, MD, Chief of Geriatric Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Aging is a life-saving process,” he says. “It is a process of lifelong adaptation to prevent us from developing cancers that would kill us.” How soon you notice age-related changes in stamina, strength, or sensory perception, will vary based on your personal health choices, your medical history, and your genetics, Minaker says.
We all want to age gracefully and with that notion, there are some preventive steps we can take to facilitate a healthier aging process. Some of these steps include:
- Increase mental exercise
- Adequate physical exercise
- Eat a healthy/balanced diet
- Maintain social involvement
- Moderate or no alcohol and no smoking
Aging, characterized by progressive changes associated with increased susceptibility to many diseases, is influenced by genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and environmental exposures.
How do you know when to ignore your body’s lapses or when to seek medical advice? What’s normal aging, and what’s not? The truth is that most people don’t know the answers to these questions. The best advice then is to contact your healthcare provider and/or a geriatric medicine specialist to assist you with the best course of action for your individual healthcare needs.
The great majority of those over age 65 today are healthy, happy and fully independent. In spite of this, some individuals begin to experience changes that are perceived as signs of deterioration or decline. We must try to forget the stereotypes and look at older individuals as unique individuals, each with their own aging journey. By being proactive with preventive health and proper medical care, we can all age with grace.