Healthy Aging: What’s Normal Versus What You Should Worry About
As the saying goes: growing old isn’t for the faint of heart! It takes a lot of work to make it through 50 or 60 years in this world. But the good news is if you take care of yourself, your golden years can be healthy, happy, and active.
However, there’s no denying your body changes with age. Some of it’s expected: our hair gets a little grayer (or falls out), our skin becomes more saggy, we don’t move quite as fast as we used to, and we may even have to work harder to remember things.
It’s all normal…or is it?
We’re here with an honest discussion of issues around aging, including what you can expect, what’s normal, and what’s a cause of concern.
Trouble Holding Your Urine
The Problem: You know what we’re talking about: you sneeze or laugh hard, and you feel like you’re leaking. Or, suddenly, you REALLY HAVE TO GO and release a few drops before you can get to the bathroom.
What’s Happening: As we age, the muscles in and around our bladder may get weak, making it harder to hold our urine. Combine that with some normal bladder shrinkage, and you may experience the sensation of having to go quite often.
What You Can Do About It: Talk to your doctor. They may recommend exercises or physical therapy to help you regain strength and control.
What’s Not Normal: If you suddenly start losing control of your bladder or bowels, contact your doctor immediately.
You Gain Weight More Easily
The Problem: When you were young, you could eat pizza, hamburgers, and ice cream and not gain a pound. But now that you’re past 55, it seems like you just look at a donut and gain weight.
What’s Happening: Many people slow down in two ways when they age: they stop exercising or moving as much. And a slowing metabolism, or the rate at which we burn our food for fuel, can also contribute to weight gain.
What You Can Do About It: These are great reasons to get active and stay active – even as few as 30 minutes of regular cardiovascular exercise a day can help boost your metabolism and keep you mobile, strong, and protect your bones.
What’s Not Normal: A rapid or sudden weight gain could be a symptom of a much larger problem, so you should see your doctor ASAP.
Your Memory isn’t What It Used to Be
The Problem: You run into the neighbor you’ve known for years at the grocery store…Ana? Amy? Michelle? You find yourself forgetting not only names but common words and occasionally what you’re doing.
What’s Happening: Beginning in middle age, your brain’s anatomy and chemistry start to change. Certain parts of your brain may be slowing down, shrinking, or becoming worn. These things can affect your ability to learn new information or retrieve information and memories (which is why you forgot your neighbor’s name).
What You Can Do About It: Exercise helps protect your brain at every age. There are many other healthy steps you can take to keep your brain sharp, such as maintaining strong social connections and learning new things
What’s Not Normal: If you start using the wrong words – for example, every time you want to say the word “computer” you say “blueberry” instead, you start becoming confused during everyday activities, or you’re experiencing personality changes – it’s time to see your doctor.
Your Body Feels Achy and Creaky
The Problem: When you do something physical, you pay for it the next day with aches and pains in your back, your knees, and everywhere else. And some days, even getting out of bed is a challenge!
What’s Happening: The cushioning that protects your joints can dry out and the tissues that hold your muscles and bones together stiffen. As you age, you’re also more likely to develop arthritis.
What You Can Do About It: Most normal, age-related aches and pains can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers or aids like heating pads or ice compresses. If you’re overweight, losing a few pounds can also take some of the pressure off your body.
When to Worry: If you still don’t get relief from pain relievers and rest. Or if you have pain that’s accompanied by weakness, fever, or strange sensations in that part of the body.
Your Vision is No Longer Sharp
The Problem: You put your glasses on to read something…then take them off again because they must not be working! At least, that’s what you hope even though you’re having trouble seeing far-away things, too.
What’s Happening: Your eyes can change with age. The lens inside the eye loses its ability to change shape, which is why it’s so difficult to focus. As we age, we are more likely to develop conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eyes, and loss of peripheral vision. All of these things can affect our vision.
When It’s Not Normal: Go to the doctor immediately if you start experiencing “floaters” or flashing lights, which could be symptoms of retinal detachment. You should also see your doctor if you suddenly experience dramatic vision changes.
AltaMed Can Help You Grow Healthy at Every Age
Receiving the right care is important for maintaining and even improving your health as you age, and we’re here for you. Stay proactive with age-appropriate screenings and routine checkups. In addition to complete primary and specialty care services, we also have a program called AltaMed PACE for independent seniors with complex medical needs. No matter your age, we can help you grow healthy for life.