The body goes through a complicated series of physiological changes as it ages. In his book The American Geriatric Society s Complete Guide to Aging & Health, Mark E. Williams, M. D. , defines aging as a progressive, predictable process that involves the evolution and maturation of living organisms. Aging affects all parts of the body from the obvious such as skin, hair and overall appearance to organ function.
The most visible sign of the aging process takes place within the skin. The skin consists of three layers: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis. The outer level is called the epidermis. As this skin level ages the rates of cell loss increase and cell production decrease resulting in a thinning of the skin. This thinning makes the skin more susceptible to creasing and wrinkling.
Another visible aspect is the appearance of age spots. These age spots result from the grouping of pigment producing cells. Also the blood vessels near the surface weaken, as they age and this will allow the skin to bruise easily. The middle level is called the dermis.
It is at this level where collagen is produced. Collagen helps to strengthen the skin. As an individual ages less collagen is produced resulting in the skin becoming stiffer and less elastic. When the skin becomes less elastic it will then begin to sag. The inner most level of skin is the hypodermis.
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It is at this level where the fat cells are located. As the body ages fat begins to decrease at a dissimilar rate. This results in a bumpy appearance. It is also at this level that the sebaceous glands are found. These particular glands provide oil lubrication for the skin. As these glands age they produce less oil that results in the skin becoming dry, brittle and more vulnerable to abrasive forces.
Another highly visible sign of the aging process takes place in the hair. Hair is lost daily but as the individual ages the rate of replacement slows. Thi shows up as a thinning in the growth. Males and females also react to the aging process differently when it comes to hair. Women will develop facial hair with most predominate growth occurring on their chins. Men will continue to develop hair growth on the inner surfaces of their outer ears.
Both sexes also develop a graying of the hair. This is due to the slowing of the production of melanocytes, which produce the pigment color. Another part of the body where the rate of destruction exceeds replacement as it ages is the skeletal system. Due to the loss of calcium the bones become brittle. An increasing problem among the elderly is broken bones. Joints also lose mobility and deteriorate from constant wear and tear.
The cartilage between vertebrae begins to disappear which results in the individual appearing to shrink. Muscles also undergo loss in the aging process. Muscle cells begin to shrink and some also die. Due to this shrinkage the muscles loss bulk and strength.
The rate of energy production also slows which helps to contribute to muscle disuse. With the loss of nerve cells in the aging individual the body s senses become less acute. The corneas within the eyes suffer from shifts in shape, which alter the visual fields causing the individual to become nearsighted. The cornea also goes from transparent too blurry. The iris which consist of muscle fibers begin to atrophy which allows less light to enter the eye causing the individual to need more light in which to read, work etc. The outer ears begin to physically droop and get wider.
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The sweat glands within the ear canal begin to die off allowing earwax to dry and build up. The eardrum begins to thin and the surrounding muscles shrink causing the drum not to be easily vibrated. This becomes apparent as the individual shows a decrease in ability to hear high tones. As the body ages the brain begins to shrink in size and becomes filled with fluid. Neurons die which result in less synaptic connections. This will become evident in memory loss and a slowing of response to stimuli.
Lungs will become less effective due to a decrease in elasticity. The liver becomes less capable of filtering toxins from the blood. The heart pumps less competently as the arteries harden causing poor circulation and high blood pressure. Women will go through menopause. This is when females lose the capacity to bear children due to the cessation of egg production within the ovaries that in turn causes menstruation to end. Even though these biological changes happen during the aging process certain lifestyle factors may speed up or slow down the process.
Factors that may accelerate the process are smoking, the misuse of drugs and alcohol, excessive sun exposure, insufficient exercise, poor eating habits and obesity. By doing the opposite of these, like exercising regularly and eating a good diet, the aging process maybe slowed down and an individual s life span extended. In the 1990 s a longitudinal study on the aging process was conducted with the subjects consisting of 678 nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The goal of this study was to examine the relationship between cognitive ability and neuro pathological evidence of AD. (AD stands for Alzheimer s Disease. ) One of the surprising results of this study was the inability to predict a future diagnosis of AD based upon certain factors.
By using the Mini-Mental Status Exam, age and years of formal education researchers attempted by using a mathematical equation to predict those who will be disposed to AD. This system was proven not to be an exact form of discerning future AD patients. By using good lifestyle choices it was documented that certain cognitive functions may be retained even when certain physical aspects (i. e. Neurofibrillary tangles and senile plaques) are present. In today s society individuals will take huge steps to stay-off the visible aging process from dying hair, lifting skin and sucking up fat.
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By doing so individuals hope to remain young in the eyes of society. Due to the fact that life expectancy has been raised and increased medical intervention is possible the population of elderly individuals has slowly increased. With this increase of individual society is beginning to cater to senior citizens. Good lifestyle choices are promoted in every aspect of an individual’s life. People are urged to stay-off the biological changes of aging but are accepted when those changes happen. Society is beginning to provide for all aspects of the aging process with medical, physical and social interventions.