Normal Aging Changes

Normal Aging Changes

Nursing Home Residents Care

What is Normal Aging?

Aging is the body's natural process of wearing down. It is an individualized process that begins at birth, and is affected by many factors as people age. Not everyone ages at the same rate, therefore everyone's definition of normal aging changes will be somewhat different.
What are the Symptoms of Aging

The normal systemic changes to the aging body are numerous. Many of these aging changes place the elderly at a high risk for developing several problems such as pressure sores and fractures.
Common Ways That the Body Ages

Normal Aging Changes in the Skin

* As we age, subcutaneous fat diminishes, causing feelings of coldness, even in warm temperatures.
* Skin thins and becomes less elastic as people age.
* Risk of injury increases during the aging process.
* The elderly are at a higher risk for pressure sores.
* It is normal for wrinkles to form; facial wrinkles are the first to appear.
* Oil glands secrete less, causing skin to dry out and itch as humans age.
* Changes in perspiration occur, decreasing and making it more difficult for the body to regulate temperature.
* Reduced blood flow to the skin causing wounds to heal slower is another symptom of aging.
* As people grow older, veins dilate, causing the blood vessels near the skin surface to become more prominent.
* Blood vessels become more fragile in the elderly, increasing the risk of large bruises and skin tears.
* Blood supply to the legs is reduced, causing cold feet and increasing the risk of blood clots and pressure ulcers for elders.
* Symptoms such as sensitivity to pressure decreases as the body ages.
* It is common for Melanin production to decrease and cause hair to turn gray with age.
* Females develop facial and upper lip hair related to lower hormonal levels as they age.
* It is normal for all body hair to thin as part of the aging process.
* Fingernail and toenail growth slows with aging and nails may become brittle and develop ridges.

Normal Aging Changes in the Musculoskeletal System

* Normally muscle elasticity and mass diminishes with aging, causing decreases in strength, endurance, reaction time, and coordination amongst the elderly.
* As the body ages, bones lose minerals, making them brittle and susceptible to fractures especially in the elderly.
* Skeletal instability and shrinkage of discs in the spine are common as the body ages, causing increased risk of injury and less flexibility of the spine.
* Spinal curvature develops and becomes visible with aging.
* Degenerative joint changes cause stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion with aging.

Normal Aging Changes in the Cardiovascular System

* Aging affects cardiac output and recovery time shrinks; heart rate takes longer to return to normal after exercise.
* A slowed heart rate is normal in older adults, which causes a slowing of the pulse and less efficient circulation, increasing the risk of blood clots with age.
* Blood flow to all organs decreases with aging. The brain receives more blood than other organs, but mental changes may occur as a result of reduced oxygenation; however, mental confusion is not a normal part of the aging process.
* Elasticity of arteries decreases as part of the aging process. Fatty build-up on artery walls causes reduced blood flow to the body and increased blood pressure.

Normal Aging Changes in the Respiratory System

* Lung capacity decreases as part of the aging process.
* Less effective coughs increase the risk of pneumonia and lung infections with age.
* With aging, alveoli in the lungs thicken, causing less effective oxygen exchange.

Normal Aging Changes in the Gastrointestinal System

* Tooth enamel thins, this is normal with aging.
* Saliva production decreases, and incidences of periodontal disease increase with aging.
* It is normal for taste buds to diminish with aging, beginning with those that perceive sweetness and saltiness. Seniors or nursing home residents may complain that they cannot taste their food, and they may use condiments more often than before.
* The gag reflex is less effective as people age, greatly increasing the risk of choking.
* With aging, esophageal peristalsis slows and sphincters in the digestive system are less effective; this causes delayed entry of food into the stomach, increased risk of choking, and increased heartburn.
* As people age, gastric emptying slows, causing food to remain in the stomach longer.
* Peristalsis and nerve sensation slows in the large intestine, increasing the incidence of constipation with aging.
* It is common for the liver size to decrease once a person is over the age of 70.
* Normal aging includes the decrease of liver enzymes, making it more difficult to detoxify chemicals taken into the body; also causing a slower metabolism of medications in the elderly.
* Aging means the gallbladder empties less efficiently. Bile thickens, cholesterol content increases; incidence of gallstones increase.

Normal Aging Changes in the Urinary System

* Rate of filtration decreases with aging, causing it to be more difficult to process drugs.
* Physical ability to conserve sodium diminishes in the elderly.
* Bladder capacity decreases as we age, increasing the frequency of urination; however, incontinence is not a normal consequence of aging and is often related to infection or neglect.
* Kidney function increases when lying down, causing increased trips to the bathroom at night which is a normal aging change.
* A weakened bladder and perineal muscles will cause inadequate emptying of the bladder for the elderly.
* With aging, an enlarged prostate gland in males will cause an increase in the frequency of urination, dribbling, or complete urinary obstruction; urine residual results in and greatly increases the risk of infection.

Normal Aging Changes in the Neurological System

* With aging, decreased blood flow and reduced oxygenation to the brain causes slower transmission of nerve impulses. This change causes the elderly to need additional time for motor and sensory tasks involving speed, balance, coordination, and fine motor activities (buttoning buttons, opening bottles, etc.).
* Deterioration in nerve terminals that provide data to the brain about body movement and position occur with aging, which results in balance and coordination problems in the elderly.
* It is common for the lens in eyes to become less elastic with age, making it more difficult to see in dim lighting or when switching between spatial distances.
* Cataracts are a common symptom of aging.
* Lenses in the eyes turn yellow in color, causing distorted color perception with aging.
* As the body ages, accommodation of pupil size decreases, so the eyes take longer to adjust to changes in lighting.
* Consistency of fluid within the eye changes with aging, causing blurred vision in the elderly.
* With aging, it is normal for decreased secretions and tears in eyes, causing dryness and itching.
* Neurons in ears decrease with aging, and the blood supply diminishes in the body. Aging changes may cause hearing difficulty.
* Ability to sense pressure, temperature and pain diminish with age.

Normal Aging Changes in the Endocrine System

* Delayed release of insulin by beta cells in the pancreas causes increase the blood sugar and incidence of diabetes with aging.
* A normal symptom of aging is a slower metabolism rate, which can cause weight gain and obesity in some seniors.

Things to Do to Ease the Aging Process

Be sensitive to the aging changes that the elderly or nursing home resident may be confronting. The gradual erosion of one's body is most likely to trigger feelings of depression and grief.

Understand that normal aging changes such as sight and hearing loss may lead to apathy, mental confusion, disorientation, dependency, loss of control, loss of self-care ability and an increased risk of falls amongst the elderly.

Slowly make changes to an aging person's environment. Changes may lead to confusion, dependency, change in behavior and/or self esteem related to loss of control, stress, and possible sleep disturbances.

Recognize that acute illness may lead to dependence, change in behavior and/or self-esteem related to loss of control, sleep disturbance, and mental confusion with aging.

As the body ages, watch out for skin changes, which will seriously increase the risk of pressure sores.

The Role of the Nursing Home in the Aging Process

Nursing homes can help treat and manage the effects of the normal aging process. Nursing homes should treat residents with empathy and respect. Nursing home staff should understand residents have no control over the body changes they are experiencing as a result of aging. The nursing home staff needs to help seniors avoid complications with preventative treatments for common problems associated with aging. This can be as simple as putting lotion on a resident's dry skin or taking them to the bathroom more often. Nursing homes should provide staff who can recognize signs of the aging process, and who can help the elderly work through the grief that often accompanies aging changes.

Normal Aging Changes and Preventative Measures

Aging is a normal, involuntary process; therefore, nothing can be done to prevent aging. The effects of aging however, can be treated and/or managed. Preventative measures and simple loving care can go a long way to helping ease the stress of aging.

Commitment to the Elderly and Nursing Home Clients

Nursing home and personal injury lawyer Jeffrey H. Rasansky has one mission: to fight for the rights of aging nursing home residents and their families. Jeff has successfully represented victims of personal injury, nursing home abuse, nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence and medical malpractice.

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