Ageing is the process of gradual and spontaneous change resulting in maturation through adulthood, puberty, and young adulthood and then decline of many bodily functions through middle and late ages. It is a continuous process that begins at birth and continues throughout all stages of life. Unlike the changes in adolescence which are predictable to within a few years, each person ages at a unique rate. Somebody organs begin to age and decline in function as early as thirty years. Other ageing processes are not common until much later. Although there are changes that typically occur with ageing, they occur at different rates and to different degrees. There is no reliable way (including your age in years), to predict specifically the rate at which you age. Studies have shown that in the same person, different system organs would age at different rates. This discourse on age is particularly apt when you consider that an average Nigerian has a pitiful lifespan of between forty-eight and fifty-two years. We will consider the phenomena of ageing as it applies to both sexes and then see what things can be done to age gracefully or successfully. We will also see the effect of stress on ageing. Have a nice reading.
No one really knows how and why people change as they get old. Some theories claim ageing is caused by accumulated injuries from ultraviolet light, “wear and tear” on the body, from by-products of metabolism, et cetera. Others view ageing as a predetermined controlled process. Ageing is known to vary in how it affects different people and organs. Most of the people who study ageing (gerontologists) feel that ageing is a cumulative effect of the interaction of many lifelong influences. Things that influence the ageing process include heredity, environment, cultural influences, diet, exercises and leisure, past illnesses and other factors.
Ageing can be classified into three categories – senescence, normal ageing, and healthy (successful) ageing. Senescence describes the many changes that occur with age because of biological, psychological, and environmental factors as well as lifestyle choices. It may be difficult to separate the aspects of senescence that are purely biological, and thus to be expected and difficult to avoid, from those that are nonbiological and thus preventable. Normal ageing refers to the common complex of diseases and impairments. Healthy ageing refers to the process by which ageing is not accompanied by debilitating disease and disability. People who age successfully may maintain healthy life until death and are said to have died of old age. Healthy ageing is the ultimate in ageing.
Bodily Changes Associated with Ageing
The human body is made up of fat, lean tissue (muscles and organs), bones, water and other substances. The amount and distribution of these materials give the typical body contour at various stages of ageing. With ageing, fat tissue accumulates around the centre of the body, including the abdominal organs. The lean body mass also decreases. Organs like the liver, kidney, lose some of their cells. The bones lose their minerals, become less dense and are more liable to fracture. Height decreases, primarily caused by shortening of the trunk and spine. The tendency to become shorter occurs among all races and both sexes. The average height loss is 1 cm for every 10 years after the age of 40, and the height loss increases after 70 years of age. In total, ageing may result in a height loss of 3 inches. Inflammation, pain, stiffness, deformity may result from the breakdown of joint structures. The posture becomes progressively stooped and the knees and the hips become more flex. Movements slow and may become limited. The walking pattern becomes slower and the steps shorter. Walking becomes unsteady, with fewer arms swinging, making elderlies more prone to falls and accidents. Weight changes are known to vary between sexes. Men gain weight averagely up to age 50, and then begin to lose it. Women, on the other hand, gain weight up to age 70 when they begin to lose it. Weight loss is partly from loss of muscle tissue. It may also result from loss of subcutaneous tissue. For women for women menopause or cessation of menses, is an obvious sign of ageing. There is a transition period that extends for many years before and after the last menstruation. This period is known as the climacteric period, and is commonly marked by irregular cycles. Menopause occurs at about the age of 50, although it can occur before the age 40 in about 8% of women. Many of the problems of menopause triggered by hormonal changes would vary in severity from woman to woman. A woman may experience changes in libido and her sexual response may change, but ageing does not prevent a woman from being able to have or enjoy sexual relationships. More often, things such as availability of a partner, symptoms from vaginal dryness, and psychological and social factors affect a woman’s sexual response more than direct ageing changes. Estrogen replacement can prevent or reduce many of the symptoms are associated with menopause, including vaginal atrophy and hot flushes. However, estrogen replacement has other side-effects and should be recommended by a competent physician only.
Unlike women whose fertility stops abruptly with menopause, men do not experience sudden changes in fertility. Instead, they experience a period of gradual demeanour diminution of fertility known as andropause. The prostate gland enlarges with age as some of the prostate tissue is replaced with scar-like fibrotic tissue. This condition is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia affects about 50% of men. Benign prostatic hyperplasia can interfere with urination. Prostate cancer becomes more common in aged men. It is one of the most frequent causes of cancer death for men. Fertility varies from man to man, and age is not a good predictor of male fertility. Men may also experience a decrease in sexual drive. They may also be related to decreased testosterone but is more likely to result from psychological or social changes related to ageing, chronic illness and medications. Some medications such as those used to treat hypertension can cause some men to be unable to develop or maintain an erection sufficient to allow intercourse. Impotence may be a concern for ageing men. It is normal for erections to occur less frequently than when younger and ageing men have less ability to experience repeated ejaculation. However, impotence is most often the result of something else other than simple ageing.