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11/21/2014

How the Body Ages: Some Normal Changes

How the Body Ages: Some Normal Changes


What
Happens?

Why?

Mental function

Difficulty
remembering
or coming up
with the right
word

The nerve cells in the brain release different amounts of some chemical
messengers (which send impulses from cell to cell), and the number of
receptors on nerve cells may decrease. Thus, the brain does not send or
process impulse as well or as quickly.

Difficulty
concentrating
Difficulty
learning new
material
Physical activity

Unsteadiness
or loss of
balance

Structures in the inner ear that help with balance stiffen and deteriorate
slightly.

Dizziness or
lightheadedness
when standing

The heart does not pump enough blood to the head because the heart is
less able to respond to changes in position.

Loss of muscle
strength

The number and size of muscle fibers decrease.

Difficulty
moving

Less joint fluid is produced.

Less flexibility

The part of the brain that controls balance (cerebellum) may degenerate.

The nervous system signals the heart to increase blood flow less effectively.
The blood vessels do not constrict enough to maintain normal blood
pressure when a person stands.

The body produces less growth hormone and (in men) less testosterone,
which help maintain muscles.

The cartilage between bones in joints becomes stiffer and may erode.
Tendons and ligaments become stiffer and weaker.
Muscle tissue is lost, replaced by fatty or fibrous tissue, decreasing strength
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11/21/2014

How the Body Ages: Some Normal Changes

and making muscles stiffer.


Difficulty
exercising
strenuously

The heart cannot keep up with the demand for more blood during exercise.
It cannot speed up as quickly or pump as fast as it used to, partly because
the heart and blood vessels become stiffer and less elastic. Also, the heart
does not respond as quickly or as well to chemical messengers that
normally stimulate it to speed up.
The lungs cannot keep up with the demand for oxygen during exercise.
Less air is taken in with each breath, and the lungs do not absorb as much
oxygen.

The senses

Need for
reading
glasses

The lens of the eye stiffens, making focusing on close objects more difficult.

Difficulty
seeing in dim
light

The retina of the eye becomes less sensitive to light.

Difficulty
adjusting to
changes in
light levels

The pupils react more slowly to changes in light.

Dry eyes

The number of cells that produce fluids to lubricate the eyes decreases.

The lens of the eye becomes less transparent.

Darkened areas in the lens of the eye increase glare.

The tear glands produce fewer tears.


Difficulty
understanding
words

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) develops, which often affects mainly


high frequencies (which include consonantsthe sounds that help people
identify words).

Loss of hearing

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) develops.


Earwax accumulates.

Loss of taste

Taste buds become less sensitive.


People detect odors less well because the lining of the nose becomes
thinner and drier and the nerve endings in the nose deteriorate.
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11/21/2014

How the Body Ages: Some Normal Changes

Dry mouth

Less saliva is produced.

Eating problems

Difficulty
swallowing

The mouth is dry.


The muscles involved in swallowing weaken, and coordination is impaired.
People may not chew food enough because teeth are missing or dentures
do not fit well. Then, chunks of food are too large to swallow.
The bones at the top of the spine change, tipping the head forward and thus
compressing the throat.

Disinterest in
eating

Taste decreases, making food less appetizing.


Smell decreases, making food less appetizing.
The mouth is dry, leading to loss of taste.
Chewing may be difficult because teeth are missing, jaw muscles are weak,
or dentures do not fit well.
Swallowing is difficult.

Skin and hair

Wrinkles

The fat layer under the skin, which acts as a cushion, thins.

More tears in
the skin

The body produces less collagen and elastin, which make the skin tough
and elastic.

Dry skin

Glands in the skin produce less oil.

Bruises and
broken blood
vessels

Blood vessels in the skin become more fragile.

Slow healing of
wounds

The number of blood vessels in the skin decreases.

Difficulty
adjusting to
changes in
temperature

The fat layer under the skin, which helps conserve body heat, thins.

Cells responsible for healing wounds act more slowly and decrease in
number

The number of sweat glands decrease, and the sweat glands produce less
sweat. Sweat helps cool the body.
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11/21/2014

How the Body Ages: Some Normal Changes

The number of blood vessels decreases, and blood flow in the deep layers
of the skin decreases. As a result, the body cannot remove heat from body
as well.
Decreased
sensation and
sensitivity to
pain

The number of nerve endings in the skin decreases.

Gray or white
hair

The hair follicles produce less pigment (melanin).

Thinning or
loss of hair

Hairs, which must be replaced periodically, grow more slowly, and some
hair follicles stop producing new hair.

Sexual function

Copyright

Dryness of the
vagina

Less estrogen is produced.

Erections that
do not last as
long, are less
rigid, or take
more time

Less testosterone is produced.


Blood flow to the penis decreases.

2009-2014 Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, N.J., U.S.A.

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