Older Adult Changes – Age Related Physiologic Declines

Older adult changes can contribute to risk for chronic diseases. Some of the changes that take place involve body composition and weight as well as how much physical activity older adults get. There are also important changes in the immune system, and to the gastrointestinal tract, and changes to the older adults’ sense of taste and smell.

Older Adult Changes in Body Composition and Weight

If there is adult weight gain over the years, or if an adult enters their older years overweight, then there older adult changes in the form of an increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cancer.

Additionally, adults with an increase in body fat and loss of muscle mass experience a physical decline and are unable to functions and carry out their normal activities of daily living (ADLs).

However, it is not weight loss that creates a health advantage because weight loss due to ill health puts the older adult at risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. It is a lean body due to a physically active life style that conveys the advantage of older adult changes that contribute toward enjoying a healthier older age.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Lean muscle mass and physical strength declines with age, and may not simply be due to aging, decline in physical activity also plays a role in this decline, and as a result continued physical activity can help to maintain lean muscle mass and physical strength and slow the effect that aging may have on muscle mass and body strength.

In our fifties adult posture begins to deteriorate, a result of bad habits, a decrease in muscle tone and bone loss. What the aging adult may not know is that their poor posture can affect lung and cardiovascular function, physical mobility and balance.

At this time diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and stroke can become more prevalent and cause severe disabilities.

Physical activity cannot stop the effects of aging, but can slow it down and allow the older adult to live a more productive life longer. Some of the benefits of physical exercise include:

• The ability to continue to live independently

• Better mental and physical health

• An improved quality of life

• Increased energy

• The ability to move around with less aches and pains

• Improved balance and posture

• Increased self-esteem

• Better maintenance of weight

• Stronger muscles and bones

• Improved ability to relax

• Reduced stress levels

• Ability to sleep better

By increasing physical activity to include aerobic exercises, flexibility exercises, and progressive resistance strength training the benefits to health can be enormous.

Some of the older adult changes that the benefits of physical exercise and activity can in turn reduce the risks of:

• Heart disease

• Stroke

• High blood pressure

• Falls and injuries

• Obesity

• Osteoporosis

• Depression

• Diabetes (Type 2)

• Cancer of the colon

• Premature death

Immune System Changes

During the fiftieth year of life the adult immune system begins to weaken and the ability to fight off bacteria, viruses and other foreign bodies begins to decline, making older adults more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections such as influenza and pneumonia, more susceptible to urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers and to food borne illnesses.

In addition physical barriers such as the skin, the acid environment of the stomach, and the coughing and swallowing reflexes begin to weaken as well making the body susceptible to infectious agents, foreign bodies, and chemicals that can invade these declining protective barriers.

Due to poor appetite, difficulty chewing that may result from poor dentition, decreased income, concerns over fat intake, or lactose intolerance older adults may no longer consume an adequate amount of protein and some antioxidant nutrients. There may be a decreased intake of meat, dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables.

This reduced dietary intake can lead to a suppressed immune system, decreased muscle mass, slower wound healing, and osteoporosis.

Gastrointestinal Changes

The production of saliva declines as we age, with the lack of saliva affecting the preparation of food in the mouth for digestion and contributing to gum disease.

In addition, as we age, digestive secretions decline, in particular the stomach secretions of the enzyme pepsin and of hydrochloric acid. This can lead to a chronic inflammation of the stomach lining called atrophic gastritis, which results in the inability to absorb vitamin B12 normally with a resulting deficiency of the vitamin.

Due to a slowing of gastric motility or the ability to move food along in the gastrointestinal tract through the contraction of the muscles of this system, older adults often experience constipation, gas, and bloating. The intake of fiber and fluid intake which would help to improve the transit of foods through the gastrointestinal tract is also reduced and by increasing both fiber and fluid intake constipation, gas, and bloating can be helped.

Older Adult Changes To the Senses of Taste and Smell

In older adults the sense of taste also declines resulting in the need to have a mount of flavor in foods that is double that of a college age student in order for the adult to detect the taste of the food. The sensitivity to salty and sweet foods is the first to go, resulting in the higher consumption of these foods by older adults and thus causing potential health problems due to over consumption of these foods.

The sense of smell in older adults also diminishes especially as adults reach the seventieth year of life. Therefore, by providing foods with stronger odors and flavors, food will remain palatable for older adults encouraging them to eat healthier foods and increasing their intake of much needed nutrients.

Adult Nutrient Needs - Eating For Healthier Aging
Adult Health Concerns - Chronic Nutrition Related Concerns

For other information about older adult changes click on the link to apa.org

For other information on nutrition including older adult changes some great references are:

• Nutrition – Fourth Edition by Paul Insel, Don Ross, Kimberley McMahon, and Melissa Bernstein

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