We may understand - in theory - that our bodies will continue to change as we get older. But suddenly noticing that our bodies are different now can come as a unwelcome surprise. When did THAT happen? Subtle physiological changes can add up until they're not so subtle anymore.
While everyone's experience is unique, knowing about the most common ways our bodies tend to change as we age can make those surprising differences less of a shock or a problem.
The older we get, the less we are able to tolerate temperatures that are too hot ot too cold.
Dehydration and overheating can cause serious problems for seniors; and for several reasons, it can be harder to tell that we're getting dehydrated. Older bodies can sweat less than they used to, and changing taste buds can mask thirst. Even healthy senior bodies tend to have less fluid reserves. Commonly-used medications (for high blood pressure, diabetes, or allergies among others) work by flushing out extra fluid, making it easier to get dehydrated when it's hot or at high altitudes. Chronic dehydration has been linked to urinary tract infections (UTIs), falls, and even cardiac problems - it's no small concern.
When caring for someone who has mobility problems, or is worried about incontinence, it's important to encourage them to continue to drink to stay hydrated (and to help with their bathroom concerns), especially when they're in a care facility. Also, people with dementia may literally forget to drink. For some coping and preventative strategies, see:
High temperatures can bring on heat exhaustion, heat stress, or heat stroke - and older adults are more susceptible to those, for the same reasons. If someone is experiencing many of the same symptoms of dehydration but is also overheated, either sweating heavily or not sweating enough, or has muscle cramps, throbbing headache, or nausea, follow this advice:
While Santa Clara County doesn't have as extremely low temperatures as other parts of the United States, cold weather is still a concern. And the same body changes that make older adults more vulnerable to dehydration or heatstroke in hot weather can make them more vulnerable to hypothermia. Warning signs of hypothermia (in addition to feeling chilled) include cold feet and hands, slow or slurred speech, sleepiness, shallow breathing, stiff or jerky movements.
Most people's eyesight will change in later life. Our eyes have a harder time focusing at near distances, and we can get eyestrain more frequently. Changes in the shape of the eye can make us farsighted (also called presbyopia). Over the counter magnifying reading glasses or eyeglass prescriptions for single- or multi-focal lenses are the most common solutions.
Cataracts are a painless discoloration of the eye's lens that progressively effects vision. One of the most common causes of blindness, they are extremely common in older eyes, as the National Eye Institute explains: "The risk of cataract increases with each decade of life starting around age 40" and by age 80, between 50-70% of the population have it. Luckily, outpatient surgery can correct cataracts.
Floaters (dark specks that mysteriously move through our field of vision) can happen at any age, but can be a side effect of cataract surgery. If they appear suddenly, they can also be a sign of other, dangerous, conditions - do see an ophthalmologist to get them checked out asap.
Poor vision and poor hearing (sensory loss) increase risks for dementia, including Alzheimer's dementia.
For many Americans, many key functions (including those all-important "activities of daily life") depend on being able to drive. But as our eyesight, hearing, and reflexes change with age, our driving skills can deteriorate. Medications can also interfere with reaction time, increasing seniors' risk for accidents.
AAA offers these resources to evaluate our driving safety and tools to keep those skills well-developed:
Hearing loss is another common issue for older adults: the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that one-third of people 65-74 have it, and roughly half the people 75 or older.
Poor hearing and/or poor vision (sensory loss) increase risks for dementia, including Alzheimer's dementia.
Usually hearing loss is treated with hearing aids. However, those are rarely covered by health insurance, and can be expensive. Check the buying guides linked below and talk with your health care team to find the best solution; also ask around for programs that subsidize or help to pay for them.
Our sense of taste is directly connected to our sense of smell, and changes to one will also affect the other. A COVID infection isn't the only cause for loss of taste and smell - those could be caused by several different possible reasons.
Numbness or losing the sense of touch could have many possible causes. Some of the most common are neuropathies (nerve damage), especially to our hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy).
Be sure to discuss information gathered from these resources with your health care providers to see if it is relevant to your individual situation. Health and medical information accessed through these websites is not intended to substitute for or to replace the advice or instruction of a health care professional.
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