You get older, and things change. Creaks, twinges, graying (or disappearing!) hair, wrinkles, forgetfulness—which among all the changes to your mind and body are normal, not something to worry about…and which are not? Find out, have some fun, and learn how to age healthfully with our quiz!
Everyone older than 75 has difficulty hearing.
It’s true that hearing loss is more common the older people get—one in three people between 65 and 75 and half of people older than 75 have some degree of hearing loss. But not everyone has difficulty hearing as a senior. Other risk factors besides aging, such as disease, heredity and prolonged exposure to loud noise also contribute to hearing problems. But while some risk factors are unavoidable, there are things you can do to help preserve your hearing—including not smoking…maintaining a healthy weight…and checking your medications with your doctor. Some drugs, including antidepressants, antibiotics and even aspirin and ibuprofen, can affect hearing.
A normal brain can repair itself until about age 80, but not after that.
Brain plasticity—the ability of neurons to grow new connections and the structure of existing synapses to change as new information is learned—keeps working your whole life. Age does cause some cognitive changes, but not all are worth worrying about. For instance, mild forgetfulness, such as losing your keys and forgetting people’s names from time to time, is not a cause for concern. But it’s time to talk to a doctor if your cognitive issues include such things as asking the same questions repeatedly…getting lost in places you know well…having trouble following directions…or finding yourself becoming confused about time, people and situations.
Your heart gets slower as you age.
Your heart rate does slow slightly as you age. Age-related changes in your heart’s electrical system decrease aerobic capacity—how much oxygenated blood the heart is able to pump with each beat—so that an older person working out at 120 beats per minute (bpm) could be exercising harder than a young person exercising at a much higher bpm. While these changes happen equally for everyone, you can maintain and/or improve aerobic capacity by keeping physically active. You can also give your heart and the rest of your cardiovascular system a break by maintaining your weight and blood pressure at healthy levels and not smoking.
Constipation is an inevitable part of aging.
Constipation is more common as people get older, but it’s not automatic like gray hair, wrinkles and reading glasses. One reason older people are less “regular” is because they’re more likely to eat a low-fiber diet, to not drink enough fluids and to have sedentary lifestyles—all major contributors to the condition. Certain medications, such as diuretics and iron supplements, can also contribute to constipation. A diet that includes high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limiting high-fat meats, dairy products and processed foods (including sweets) and drinking plenty of water…and staying physically active…are the best ways to keep your bowels moving. And don’t ignore the urge! Holding back a bowel movement can cause constipation.
Your distance vision improves as you get older.
It may seem like your distance vision has improved compared to how hard it is to read restaurant menus or nutrition labels on food packages and other close objects. What generally happens, though, is that once you reach your 40s, near-focus gets harder—a condition called presbyopia. Sensitivity to glare, cataracts and trouble adapting to different levels of light are also more common with age. Photochromic lenses, which adjust to differing light levels, can help with sensitivity to light. Help your eyes stay healthy and your vision sharp throughout your life by getting regular eye exams (every two to four years from ages 40 to 54, every one to three years from ages 55 to 65, yearly thereafter, or more frequently if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or vision issues)…following a healthy diet…and exercising!
You’re less likely to get cavities as you get older.
If you thought you could indulge your sweet tooth without dental repercussions now that you’re not a kid, sorry! Your teeth and gums actually can become more vulnerable as you get older. For one thing, gums tend to pull back (recede) from teeth with age, exposing more areas to decay and infection. Also, older people are more likely to be taking medications that can cause dry mouth, such as those that treat allergies, asthma, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and saliva helps protect teeth and gums. What doesn’t change is the prescription for a healthy mouth. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss or use another interdental cleaner once a day, and see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.
Feeling cold is a common problem that comes with age for both men and women.
As you get older, you tend to lose body heat faster even if you’re otherwise healthy. Also, some chronic illnesses to which older people are prone—including diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and arthritis—can make it harder to maintain body warmth. Seniors are at higher risk for hypothermia, when the body temperature falls below 95°F—even indoors in a chilly house. Even non-fatal hypothermia can trigger serious health problems such as kidney damage or a heart attack. Self defense: Pay attention to how cold it is where you’ll be spending time…dress appropriately, bearing in mind whether you’ll be sitting still for long periods. If a power outage leaves you without heat, get to someplace heated until the power’s back.
You naturally lose interest in sex as you get older.
Aging does change sexual needs, desire and performance, but for many older people, sexual interest and ability remains active and a vital part of relationships. Vaginal changes, including dryness, can make sex uncomfortable for women…and less-firm erections, taking longer to achieve an erection and impotence can be challenges for men. If certain issues are holding you back, talk to your physician for treatment suggestions.