As we age, the cells in our bodies start to degenerate. Old cells die and are replaced by new cells. However, the older we get, the harder it is for some cells to multiply and reproduce. Every time a cell multiplies, the telomere is shortened just a little. Telomeres are responsible for moving the cell’s genetic material before it divides, and eventually it is to short to do its job, preventing the cell from dividing. This makes different organs function less efficiently. Read on for specific effects of aging throughout the body.
The most noticeable signs of aging are seen on the skin. Wrinkles and sunspots are the most common problems. As you age, the fat and tissue underneath the skin begin to deteriorate, and the skin becomes less elastic, causing it to sag and wrinkle as we age (to learn how to prevent wrinkles, check out this blog). The skin also becomes thinner and drier, partially due to exposure to the sun and gravity, but partially due to the fact that cells gradually deteriorate. Exposure to the sun can cause people to look older than those who did not have as much exposure. Sunlight can cause more wrinkling and sunspots along the skin. Nerve endings in the skin also decrease, causing people to be less sensitive to pain, temperature, and pressure, and leads to an increase of injury. The fat layer just beneath the skin deteriorates as well, making the elderly more sensitive to cold.
As you age, your bones become less dense. Your body has a harder time absorbing calcium the older it gets, leading to the density decrease.This causes osteoporosis and increases the risk for injury. The joints and spinal bones compress, and that can lead in a decrease in height. Many people lose about two inches as they age. Cartilage between bones experience a decrease in water content, and that can lead to arthritis. Ligaments between the bones become less elastic and many people lose flexibility as they age.
Hair follicles make less melanin, and as a result, your hair starts to turn grey. Greying can start in your early 30’s, and continue until your hair turns white. Also, as you age, the thickness of your hair changes. The rate of hair growth decreases, and hair strands become smaller. Sometimes, different hair follicles will stop producing hair. You may start to bald. Male patterned baldness is mostly hereditary.
There are two different changes in the ears, hearing and physical changes. Overexposure to loud noises and presbycusis (hearing loss due to old age) cause people to have a harder time hearing high pitched noises, and have a harder time understanding words. The reason why it is harder to understand people as you age is due to the fact that many consonants are high-pitched, while vowels are low pitched. While many elderly individuals ask people to speak louder, they actually should be asking people enunciate better. Another reason why hearing is harder as you age is because your ears tend to produce more earwax. You also may experience hair growth in your ears, although no one is quite sure why this happens.
Decreased eyesight is one of the first signs of aging, and the first organ to functionally deteriorate. The lens stiffens, making it difficult to focus on objects (a condition known as presbyopia, causing people to need reading glasses). The lens also become denser and the pupil reacts more slowly to light changes, making it harder for you to see in dim light. Nerve cells also decrease, making it more difficult to have correct depth perception. The eyes produce less fluid, and they can feel dryer, requiring you to use eye drops.
The amount of muscle mass decreases as you age. Some of this is due to the decreased levels of growth hormone and testosterone, but some is due to the fact that cells just expand over time and have a harder time dividing and multiplying. Muscles cannot contract as quickly as more fast-twitch muscle fibers are lost than slow-twitch muscle fibers. Luckily, only about 10-15% of muscle mass is lost as you age. If you experience more degeneration than that, it is probably due to illness or inactivity. It is important to continue exercising all throughout your life, but especially as you age.
As cells within organs age, the organs function less efficiently. Some organs do not have the genetic code to replace dead cells. If one organ does not work to its full potential, it can affect additional organs in the body, causing them to overwork, or not give them enough nutrients. As these organs stop performing at their peak, you become more susceptible to factors such as stress, temperature, and illness. The heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and the brain are more likely to malfunction under stress than other organs. However, every organ has what is known as a “functional reserve,” an excessive amount of functioning cells at conception that allow them to keep working even after about half of the initial cells die off.
Guest post by Darci Maxwell.