Aging changes (Changes in the elderly)


Aging is the time-related progressive functional decline that affects all organ systems. It is believed to be caused by the accumulation of DNA damage, hormonal changes, and internally programmed cellular changes. Effects of aging include stiffening of the arteries and calcification of valves (cardiovascular system), osteoporosis and increased risk of fracture (musculoskeletal system), decreased chest wall compliance and increased ventilation-perfusion mismatch (respiratory system), susceptibility to recurrent infections and malignancies (immune system), and decline in cognitive function and changes in sleep patterns (nervous system).

Effects of aging

All cells are subject to the natural processes of aging. Aging is believed to be caused by the accumulation of DNA damage, hormonal changes, and internally programmed cellular changes. Aging affects all organ systems and leads to progressive functional decline.

Aging changes in the bones, muscles, and joints

Regular exercise and a diet rich in protein, vitamin D, creatine, and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to ensure muscle growth and help prevent sarcopenia!

Aging changes in the skin

There is an increased incidence of:

Aging changes in the nails and hair

Aging changes in the cardiovascular system

Aging changes in the respiratory system [2]

Bodily changes Consequences
Weaker chest wall muscles
  • ↑ Chest wall stiffness → ↓ chest wall compliance
Calcification of costochondral junctions
Osteoporosis-induced kyphosis
Decreased elastin in pulmonary parenchyma
  • ↓ Elastic recoil → lung compliance
Weakened baroreceptor/chemoreceptor response
  • Poor ventilatory response to ↓ O2 and ↑ CO2 levels
Weakened respiratory muscles
Weakened immune system
  • ↑ Susceptibility to infection

Aging changes in the genitourinary system

Aging changes in the immune system [3][4][5][6][7][8]

Among the elderly, a decreased immune response leads to an increased need for booster vaccinations.

Aging changes in the endocrine system

Aging changes in the nervous system

  • Presbycusis: progressive high-frequency hearing loss due to loss of hair cells at the base of the cochlea
  • Presbyopia: impaired accommodation (near object focusing) due to decreased elasticity of the lens; decreased ciliary muscle strength
  • Decline of vertical gaze and convergence [9]
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Reduced ability to detect vibration, touch, temperature, and pressure changes (increased risk of pressure ulcers, hypothermia, and burns)
  • Decreased cerebral blood flow and brain volume
  • Fluid intelligence declines, whereas crystallized intelligence increases
  • Altered sleep patterns: early morning awakening, later sleep onset, decreased REM, and decreased slow-wave sleep
  • After the 6th decade of life
    • Decline in executive function, working memory, processing speed, and attention span
    • In most cases, no clinically significant impairment in social and occupational functioning
    • Increased suicide risk in case of physical and mental illnesses (particularly depression), functional impairment, and stressful life events (e.g., loss of a partner)

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last updated 11/22/2020
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