Aging Alert

By Scott LaFee

November 16, 2007 4 min read


Like the saying goes, getting old isn't for sissies

By Scott LaFee

Copley News Service

Aging is not for the weak of heart. Figuratively speaking.

Time may bring wisdom and grandchildren, but it also lugs along a list of physical woes and other generally unpleasant surprises. Read on and consider yourself warned:

- Skin. The gradual loss of underlying fat layers and oil glands makes wrinkles and loss of elasticity inevitable. Poor nutrition, sun exposure, heredity and hormones don't help. Older skin perspires less because sweat glands are shrinking. Skin cells don't live as long, and they're replaced more slowly, resulting in more slowly healing wounds. The effects of aging hit women sooner because men's skin is usually oilier and thicker.

- Hair. Today, gone tomorrow. We all lose at least some. Blame heredity. The unfortunate exception is the suddenly robust growth of terminal hairs in the nose, ears and eyebrows - the likely result of hormonal changes. Generally speaking, hair begins to lose its pigmentation by age 50.

- Face. Gravity's a downer. Bone mass loss can mean a receding jaw line and chin, while cartilage buildup makes men's noses wider and longer. Earlobes flatten. Ears can grow a quarter-inch longer.

- Nails. They get thicker, due to reduced blood flow to connective tissues.

- Hearing. Most commonly, we lose sensitivity to high-frequency tones and are less able to discriminate between similar pitches.

- Taste and smell. Both senses decline with age. A 30-year-old has 245 taste buds per papilla (bump) on his or her tongue; an 80-year-old has half as many. Sweet taste buds are hit hardest, leaving foods tasting more sour, bitter and salty. Odors must be two to 12 times more intense for a 70-year-old to detect them as someone half his or her age. By age 65, 25 percent of people have major smell dysfunctions; by 80, it's 50 percent.

- Vision. Beginning in your 40s, your pupils naturally start to decrease in size and responsiveness, making it harder to see in dim light. The lens thickens and yellows, increasing sensitivity to glare and reducing depth perception.

- Touch. Finger skin thickens, and nerve cells disappear, making it harder to distinguish temperature changes. At 25, you can feel a 1-degree drop by touch; at 65, it takes a 9-degree change. There's a higher threshold for pain, but it's also harder to stay warm.

- Insomnia. Sleep patterns alter, likely due to changes in the brain, hormones and the body in general. It's harder to fall asleep, and less of it is deep sleep. The elderly may sleep six or fewer hours a night, females more than males.

- Balance. A host of body changes - loss of muscle, slower nerve transmissions and inner-ear deterioration among them - make it harder to stay balanced. Americans over the age of 65 fall 10 million times each year.

Some might do so after reading this list.

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