Since the 1900’s, life expectancy has increased by an average of 30 years, today the average women will live to be 80.7 years old and the average man will live to be 75.4 years old. At the age of 75 years old, 61 percent of the people are females and by the age of 85, 70 percent are females. Many men die from these leading causes of death: cancer of the respiratory system, motor vehicle accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema, and coronary heart disease. By having the extra X-chromosome women have more resistance to infections and degenerative diseases. Life expectancy is the number of years that a person born in a particular year will probably live. Life span, on the other hand, is the maximum number of years an individual can live, and that remains at approximately 120 to 125 years of age.
Physical and Cognitive Development
As we age there is a natural decline in both the physical and cognitive nature of the human being. There is a loss of height, decline in vision and hearing, and cardiovascular decline. Sleep becomes problematic as well for the aging adult. There is a reduction in the production of some neurotransmitters including acetylcholine, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which may be a cause of reduced memory function.
Whether male or female, there is a tendency to lose height as we age. Height loss is related to aging changes in the bones, muscles, and joints. For every 10 years after the age of 40, we tend to lose about 0.4 inches and the rate of loss is even more rapid after the age of 70. As you age, you may lose a total of 1 to 3 inches in height.
Your lifestyle choices affect how quickly the aging process takes place. It is important to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and avoid tobacco and illicit drugs. Also, less muscle in the legs and stiffer joints, which can be improved with exercise, can make moving around harder. Increase in body fat and changes in body shape also affect your balance making falls more likely.
As we age, there is a decrease in all of our senses such as hearing and vision, affecting the aging adult with greater impact. Hearing loss not only affects our understanding of the spoken word, but balance as well. Balance is controlled in the inner ear, fluid and small hairs within the inner ear stimulate the auditory nerve. This helps the brain maintain balance.
All of the eye’s structures change with aging. The sharpness of vision gradually declines and focusing the eyes on some things close becomes difficult. Common eye disorders in the aging adult include: cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic and hypertensive retinopathy. My mother had macular degeneration and that lead to depression for my mom. She was unable to do the one thing she loved, such as reading, and without that she became depressed. She felt that with reading she could go anywhere her mind would take her and she was able to continue to learn. Not being able to read took a large portion of her life away.
The senses affect the physical as well as the cognitive development in the aging adult. With the reduction in sensory stimuli everyday normal activity may be affected, such as bathing and grooming, conversely, doing household chores, engaging in intellectual activities, and even watching television, and this can reduce cognitive activity. The lower speed at which information is processed may be due to deficits in working memory and other cognitive tasks and may have detrimental effects on more complex tasks. Tasks with high attentional demands show impairments whereas routine tasks requiring little or no attention are therefore easier.
Estimates suggest that as many as 5 percent of those age 65 have dementia. What aren’t these supposed to be the golden years. For the aging adults, ages 85 to 90 years old, estimates as high as 50 percent have been suggested for those living with dementia. Of those with dementia 50 to 75 percent are thought to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Cleveland Aging Clinic. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease represent very significant public health problems, since the population in this age group is increasing rapidly.
Health and Biological Factors
Healthy aging involves the body and the mind: by keeping the body healthy and the mind active we can have healthy aging. With a lot of free time on their hands, the aging adult needs to build some sort of structure and purpose into their lives. If they are new to retirement, boredom can have a negative major impact on their lives. Socialization is very important: joining a church, clubs, and organizations are very good for socialization and family. Grandparents and great grandparents can become caregivers to the children. My Aunt, that will be 90 in December, watches two of her great grandchildren several days a week. The bonding and the sense of purpose are so very important to the aging adult as well as the importance of memories create for the children.
Being healthy means that a healthy diet, one that is rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates is essential. Followed up with a good exercise routine, walking for cardio and light weights or resistance training to enhance muscle tone will help keep the aging adult healthy and feeling great.
What are the relationships that the aging adult has? As the older adult ages they become more selective about their social networks, according to the socialemotional selectivity theory. There is a higher value placed on emotional satisfaction gained from spending time with familiar individuals with whom they have rewarding relationships with. The aging adult values quality over quantity in their relationships, they generally choose to have a smaller close knit group of family and friends. As the aging adult comes to perceive that they have less time left in their lives, they are more motivated to spend time pursuing emotional satisfaction.
As the aging adult comes to perceive that life is finite, how might that affect their personality? In one study (Roberts, Walton, and Bogg, 2005) it found that older adults were more conscientious and agreeable than middle-aged and younger adults. In the aspects of conscientiousness there were increases in impulse control, reliability, and conventionality. By remaining optimistic the aging adult had a more positive outlook on life, and this may have a positive effect on their lives.
There are several transitions going on in the aging adult, first there is the transition from working to retirement, or from being a housewife to having the husband home all day. Either of these situations can create stress for one or both of the parties involved. If it is a couple, learning to interact with each other on a daily basis can be difficult. The couple has to learn to find common interests so that the day to day of being together will be enjoyable.
Next there is the transition to the nursing home, whether it is as a couple or by themselves. Nursing homes can create fear: fear of dying, fear of being a burden, and fear of loneliness. These fears are also very present when a partner is lost. The loss of the partner can be traumatic beyond belief, for some there is no transitioning pass this loss. The partner left behind no matter how much the family is there for them, just cannot go on without their partner that provided their purpose in life and now it’s gone for good and they just give up on life. The loneliness and depression can over take them and they have no will to live.
So are the golden years really the golden years? They can be, with the right amount of planning and being very health wise. By learning to be social, creating a purpose for life, and keeping structure in the everyday life of the aging adult, the golden years can be a beautiful and very enjoyable time in life.
Development Across the Life Span (2008). Feldman, Robert S. Prentice Hall (5th ed.). The Breakthrough Blog (July 2013). Retrieved from http://Breakthrough.com Aging and Cognitive Function (2007). Retrieved from
http//:Clevelandclinic.org MedlinePlus (2011). Retrieved from http//:nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus.htm