What is “Normal” Aging and What Isn’t – Family Caregivers Need to Know

Let’s face it, we are all aging. Whether or not we like it or are willing to admit it, every day our bodies go through subtle changes inside and out that are part of our aging process.

Is your senior’s aging process beginning to worry you? Do you think things are happening too fast or aren’t quite right?

We may expect obvious signs of aging, such as wrinkles, declining vision, hearing loss and gray hair, but what about unsteadiness when they walk or other troubling health issues?

How each one of us ages is impacted by not only our genetics (thank you mom and dad – or why me?) and the way we maintain a healthy lifestyle (or haven’t).

Knowing what to expect, what to recognize as abnormal and what you can do to improve your senior’s chances of successfully aging can help us as caregivers help our senior loved ones.

Common Aging Changes

These are some of the “normal” changes that can be expected through the aging process.

  • Gray hair and wrinkles and you may get shorter (really!) due to bone loss.
  • Mineral loss from the bones, which could lead to fractures. This affects both men and women and impacts about 10 million people.
  • Your heart rate slows down, your heart may get bigger and your blood vessels get stiffer. This can lead to high blood pressure and cardiac disease.
  • Increased constipation due to medications, decreased fluid intake and lack of dietary fiber.
  • Incontinence. Sometimes medications, enlarged prostate, medical conditions or menopause can lead to urinary incontinence.
  • Hearing and vision impairment.
  • Thin, fragile skin. Your senior is vulnerable to breaks in the skin called skin tears due to a thinning and drying causing fragile skin. Your senior may also bruise more easily.

Warning Signs of Aging Problems

Some changes we may see in senior loved ones as they age are not considered part of the normal process, even if commonly thought of as age related, and may call for action by family caregivers.

  • Memory loss is not a normal part of the aging process. If your senior is exhibiting suspicious memory problems you should get it checked by a doctor. There could be a treatable reason for the memory loss. The CDC reports that one in eight people over 60 have some memory impairment.
  • Frequent falls due to muscle loss, weakness and balance problems. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury in seniors and steps should be taken to avoid them.
  • Behavior changes that could lead to safety concerns.
  • Loss of taste and smell that impacts eating and could result in harmful weight loss. Some loss is normal but should be checked out by the doctor and treated.
  • Unexplained weight loss. There could be many factors here, such as dental problems, medication side effects or other medical issues and these should be investigated by the doctor.
  • Depression. Being sad or blue sometimes is part of life but when this becomes chronic and leads to other physical changes, it is time to seek help.
  • Lack of mobility. If your senior loved one has stopped walking distances, shopping or complains of pain (verbally or through their body language), it may be time to investigate the cause and seek treatment.

Don’t ignore these signs when you see them. Sometimes it really is “better safe then sorry.”

Tips to Improve Chances of Aging Successfully

These are some of the steps we can help our senior loved ones adopt to help them age successfully.

  1. Stay active! Participate in strength and balance exercises to prevent falls.
  2. Eat right! Eat from the rainbow with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein every day.
  3. Drink enough water or other fluids throughout the day.
  4. Stay mentally engaged!
  5. See the doctor regularly and participate in preventive medicine, such as recommended medical screenings and vaccinations.
  6. Treat bone loss based on the healthcare team’s instructions.
  7. Get a good night’s sleep.
  8. Don’t smoke or quit if already doing it!

We know that lifestyle changes can make a difference in the lives of our senior loved ones (and ourselves) but have not really gotten them committed to these changes. Often we can encourage our seniors to make some lifestyle changes to improve the quality of their lives by being role models.

Good luck and good health!