For those of the aging population, there are a great many biological and lifestyle factors that contribute to declines in physiology of the bones, and skin. Biological factors deal with factors of the body, often these factors are related to hormones, blood, cells, tissue, and the like. Lifestyle factors include dietary habits, exercise habits or lack thereof, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, drug use, high exposure to the sun, etc.
One of the most prominent and well known physiological changes in the elderly is bone density. The well known condition osteoporosis is just one example of the effect of aging on the body. Throughout life specific bone building and bone destroying cells rebuild the skeleton around once every seven years (Ruben, 2007). The continual breakdown and creation of bone eventually leads to an overall loss. “15% of the total skeletal mass in men and 30% in women” is lost as a result of aging (Ruben, 2007). Additionally, those who don’t get enough calcium can onset early osteoporosis (Curry et al, 2004) since sufficient calcium is necessary for healthy bones and bone building.
Osteoporosis receives its name for the increased porosity of the bones that results as a result of the aging process. The reason for osteoporosis is biological, losing bone density is a natural part of aging; however, lifestyle can affect bone health and how long yours stay strong. These practices and lack thereof is to be discussed later. Another biological factor affecting bone density is menopause in women and lower testosterone levels in men (Alessi, 2007). Menopausal women experience a drop in estrogen which accounts for decreased bone density in menopausal and post-menopausal women. Along with the increased porosity of aging bones, it’s also important to note that “by old age, mobility can be severely restricted by arthritis and inflammation that ensues” (Ruben, 2003). Harold Ruben, of the aforementioned source, also notes that up to 50% of the variation in bone mass is genetically determined (2003). This is an additional biological factor to aging, and one that requires us to take additional measures to ensure that bone mass is within a healthy range.
With old age also comes health conditions, some of which affect the bones. Most commonly problems with the kidneys, thyroid, adrenal glands, and parathyroid are to blame for the thinning of bones during old age (Curry, et al, 2004). While these can hardly be avoided, health checks are important in avoiding serious problems as a result of these conditions. Other lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, drug use (both recreational and prescription), and a sedentary daily life, can lead to loss of muscle strength and bone mass.
Luckily, there are ways to help your body maintain healthy bones. For many elderly adults lifestyle practices are the best ways to maintain health, including bone health. One of the most advocated lifestyle habits for, not only the elderly is exercise. Exercise helps to maintain bone density and muscle strength (Ruben, 2003). The Internet Journal of Advanced Nursing Practice notes that walking, jogging, and the like, creates “impact on bones each time feet hit the ground, having a particular benefit on bones of the hip and spine” (Curry, et al, 2004). Since the hips and spine are such sensitive parts of the body during old age, simple exercises such as walking can really impact the extent to which an elderly individual can keep their typical lifestyle.
Another simple lifestyle habits that can aid in healthy aging is taking supplements of vitamin D and calcium. Of course, all supplements should be discussed with a health care professional. However, these supplements (especially if taken before the crucial old age period) can help in bone health.
As we all know all too well, there are also biological factors that affect our skin causing it to age, wrinkle, and sag. While the miracles of modern medicine have allowed us to improve the condition of our skin, we can’t completely fight aging. We can fight some of the symptoms, but aging is inevitable.
Wrinkles are the most common sign of aging of skin. Skin cells are responsible for this action. Outer layers of skin cells die faster than those under the surface. The cells under the surface rise to take the place of dead cells which eventually leads to wrinkling and thinning of the skin as one ages (Ruben, 2003). Additionally, the skin’s elasticity is compromised as collagen forms below the skin’s surface to strengthen it as you age. This additional strength causes the skin to lose flexibility. Thinning skin is responsible for the increased visibility of bones and blood vessels beneath the surface (Alessi, 2007).
Older skin is also more prone to over-drying and overheating due to the decreased effectiveness of the sebaceous and sweat glands (Ruben, 2003). Flushing red patches on the cheeks, small pimples, visible blood vessels, and burning sensations in the eyes and on the eyelids is common as one ages (Rasp, 2005). This condition is called rosacea and is generally treated with medical help. While environmental factors can exacerbate the condition, it sometimes arises without provocation thus making the biological section of this paper.
Lifestyle can also make a difference in aging. Age spots are one example of aging symptoms that result due to lifestyle choices. Age spots are dark spots on the skin resulting from extended exposure to the sun. Older adults generally see these spots on their arms and hands (especially on the driving side), and on their face. These can be treated with certain creams, but can also prevented in part or entirely with limited sun exposure and the use of sunscreen while out. Other skin healthy choices are to eat foods rich in anti-oxidants such as berries, and drink plenty of water.
As previously mentioned, we cannot stop aging but we can help to ease its affects on us and how we experience it. Physiological changes of the bones and skin are inevitable, but it is the duty of all people to care for them as best as possible before reaching old age. When old age hits exercise and a proper diet are two of the best options for increased health and wellness.
Rubin, H. (2003). Aging Processes: Part X – The Skin, The Skeleton, and the Brain. Retrieved June 5, 2007, from The Rubens Website: http://www.therubins.com/aging/proc10.htm
Curry, L., Hogstel, M., Frable, P., & Walker, C. (2004). Bone Health Among Aging Baby Boomers. The Internet Journal of Advanced Nursing Practice, 6.
Alessi, C. MD. (2007). Bone Health. Retrieved June 5, 2007 from The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging Website: http://www.healthinaging.org/public_education/pef/bone_health.php
Rasp, S. (2005). Health Leader. Retrieved June 5, 2007, from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Website: http://publicaffairs.uth.tmc.edu/hleader/archive/Dermatology/2005/agingskin-1018.html