Can We Change the Aging Process?

By AGIS Staff, AGIS Network

What is considered "normal" aging and can we change it? What is "abnormal"? When is it advisable to start an elderly person in an aging-appropriate exercise program? When should exercise be avoided? Does a lapse of memory always mean the elderly person has Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, or is some memory loss benign? Why do older people become frail? Why are certain diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, so common among the elderly?

These and similar questions have occurred to every conscientious caregiver. The more you know about the aging process as a person grows older, the better able you are to help your aging parents and to cope with your own feelings and reactions.

There are positives aspects on aging. The news about aging is not all bad. On the contrary, there is much that is both positive and encouraging. Not only are more people living longer than ever before, but also recent research reveals that a great deal can be done to improve the quality of life among the elderly. It is likely that one's parents' day-to-day life can be drastically improved, often simply and inexpensively.

Four basic truths about aging:

1. Although predictable aging changes occur in people as they grow older, there are many variations in the rates at which people age.

Anyone who deals with elderly people needs to be sufficiently flexible to see beyond a person's years and to think instead of the unique strengths, capacities, and weaknesses of the aging individual in question.

2. Even with the same individual, there are significant variations in the rates at which age-related changes occur.

All bodily systems do not age at the same rate. Changes in aging occur in different parts of the body at different times.

3. In order to distinguish among elderly individuals, different ways of classifying elderly people are widely used.

While no one way is entirely satisfactory, each way affords a slightly different perspective on the needs and problems of older aging people. Each way can help you prepare for your parents' aging and can help you discuss your parents' needs with healthcare professionals.

One way of classifying elderly people is by age alone. Chronological age does not always equate with functional age. A person might be 85 years old chronologically, but his or her cardio vascular system may be 55 years old functionally.

4. Aging can no longer be equated with inevitable decline and disease.

Systematic research conducted over recent decades has begun to yield important data suggesting that many of the impairments that were once thought to be inevitably associated with aging simply are not. We now know that many of these conditions are under the control of the person to a much greater degree than formerly known. Senility, for example, is not inevitable. Neither is cancer. Neither is heart disease.

Conclusion on aging

Both physical and emotional changes occur as people age. Some basic truths about aging include that people age at different rates and that there are a number of ways to classify seniors. Some of the effects of aging are primary (genetically based) and some are secondary (mostly controllable to varying degrees). There are also the emotional consequences typically experienced by people as they age. While the result of life experiences or the deterioration of abilities may be taken for granted, these physical and emotional consequences exert a great deal of influence on the attitudes and day-to-day existence of the elderly. There is a great deal to be gained by taking care of one?s self to prevent premature aging.

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