Throughout life your body is constantly changing, and as you age, some of those changes become more obvious, like wrinkles or forgetfulness. Learning what to expect as you get older can help alleviate some of the anxiety about aging.
The following are some common questions, and answers, about getting older:
Question: I used to be 6 feet tall. Now I am 5 feet, 11 inches tall. Why am I shrinking?
Answer: When looking at height loss, some changes are normal and some are not. You have 24 bones, or vertebrae, in your spine, with discs in between each vertebra. These discs begin to lose strength and thin as you age. This thinning process causes you to start to shrink.
You can prevent bone breakdown substantially through weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, aerobics or resistance training, and through a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamins. Also, speak to your primary health care provider about screening for osteoporosis. Though recommendations differ, most suggest screening universally at age 65 for women and age 75 for men.
Q: Why do I have so many wrinkles?
A: Wrinkles are a natural part of aging and can be caused by several factors, including stress and sun exposure — both of which break down the elastin fibers and collagen in skin. Exposure to air pollutants and tobacco smoke also can play a significant role.
As you age, skin becomes less elastic, and the natural oil production decreases, causing it to dry out. You start to lose the fat in the deeper layers of your skin, and the crevices and lines become more prominent. Wrinkles are also genetic.
You can slow the effects on the skin by using sunscreen and moisturizer, wearing protective clothing including hats, eliminating smoking and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which have antioxidants.
Q: Every day, I seem to lose my reading glasses. Why can’t I remember the simplest things anymore?
A: Just like your joints, muscles and skin, your brain ages, too. While it can seem like your glasses are misplacing themselves, your brain is simply having a harder time with recall. You might also notice that it takes longer to learn new things. All of these are usually signs of normal aging.
Certainly, there are other causes of memory loss, including medication interactions, vitamin deficiencies, metabolic conditions such as a thyroid disorder, depression, anxiety or ongoing infections. If you or your loved ones have noticed memory changes in you, talk with your health care provider to determine whether it is normal aging or something more significant.
Q: I leak urine when I laugh. What can I do?
A: Urinary incontinence, or urinary leakage, is a common problem, especially for older women. This issue can be the result of many causes, including pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, overactive bladder muscles, weakened pelvic muscles and nerve damage. The right treatment will require a proper diagnosis that includes a full history of symptoms, physical exam, urine testing and possibly more advanced studies, like ultrasound and X-ray imaging.
Treatments are helpful, and they include behavior modifications, dietary changes, pelvic muscle strengthening, medication and surgery.
Incontinence or voiding difficulties in men can be a sign of an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Talk with your health care provider about these symptoms.