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What Are the Normal Signs of Aging in Elderly Parents?

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As our bodies age, changes are inevitable. Although no two people age in exactly the same way, there are some signs that are considered “normal” and rarely cause for concern. Other signs might indicate your elderly parents are experiencing an underlying health issue or need extra help and care. 

There's  a lot going on in the aging body. Many people experience normal alterations in the way they think, feel, and remember things. The process can start as early as age 30, although most noticeable changes aren't detectable until later in life. We understand you're concerned, so here are some of the most common signs of aging and some tips for helping your elderly parents stay healthy and happy. 

Having a Harder Time With Physical Exertion

Activities like walking uphill or walking a long distance might be harder for aging parents because of the changes going on in the cardiovascular system. The heart has to work harder as the blood vessels and arteries stiffen, making physical activities tougher than before.

Tip: Encouraging seniors to stay active with moderate daily exercise can help combat normal age-related changes. Getting plenty of sleep and eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help, too.


Looking Shorter

Bones lose density and become more brittle, weakening as early as age 40. WebMD suggests that someone in her 40s could lose one to two inches of height as disks in the spine shrink. This also leaves your elderly parents more vulnerable to fractures. 

Tip: Getting ample vitamin D and calcium can support bone health. Encourage your parents to spend time outdoors to get a little vitamin D boost from sunlight. Likewise, help them eat a diet rich in dairy products and veggies for calcium and vitamin D-fortified foods.


Mild to Moderate Stiffness and Muscle Pain

Just as bones become more brittle, the cartilage and fluid protecting joints decreases and wears away, leaving joints feeling stiff. At the same time, your parents lose muscle mass at a rate of 3 percent to 5 percent every 10 years between the ages of 30 and 60, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After age 60 that loss increases, resulting in mild muscle pain and loss of flexibility and endurance.

Tip: Lifting light weights, walking, and other forms of moderate exercise can boost muscle strength. Stretching improves flexibility and supports joint health.


Changes in Bathroom Habits

Are your parents visiting the bathroom more frequently or complaining about constipation? All relatively normal. The bladder doesn't stretch and contract the same way it did when it was younger, often holding less urine and increasing the amount of urination older people have to do. Some medications and conditions slow the bowel, making it harder to stay regular. 

Tip: Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and bladder irritants like caffeine and alcohol, eating ample fiber, and making regular visits to the bathroom without holding too much in between can help support bowel and bladder health.


Vision Changes 

Many older adults have a hard time reading things up close or start experiencing other vision troubles as the lens of the eye hardens. Cataracts are also fairly common but this clouding of the lens can lead to significant vision loss if left untreated. 

Tip: Regular vision checks are a must for your elderly parents, particularly if they have a chronic condition like type II diabetes. Additionally, wearing sunglasses outside can help protect their sensitive eyes. 


Forgetfulness

The changes going on in the aging brain can make it difficult to multitask. This is also why many older adults are a little forgetful, sometimes struggling to remember names or words.

Tip: Staying social and mentally active supports cognitive health. Completing puzzles, taking classes, enjoying a new hobby, and spending time with others also help fight depression and stress while keeping memory and thinking skills sharp.


If you're concerned about any symptoms your parents might be experiencing, contact their doctors. If you notice signs your parents might need more help at home, such as changes in their physical appearance or difficulty performing activities of daily living, talk to them and start creating a plan for their care. 

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More Caregiving 101: Tips for New Caregivers articles:
Previous
These Are the Signs An Aging Parent Needs More Help
Next
Coping With Conflict: How to Avoid the Impact Caregiving Can Have On Your Family