10 Things That Don’t Age Well

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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With increasing life expectancy comes an increase in age-related complaints. Understandably folks want to know: is this normal with aging? This list is not meant to be depressing or hopeless, but instead, shed light on some of the areas of our body that, frankly, don’t age well.

The eyes

“Can I get a light with that menu?” Presbyopia will hit you after the age of 40, and in fact, studies show it becomes most noticeable at 43 ½.  What you may find more difficult is focusing on objects up close—that’s presbyopia.

Why does it happen? These are normal age-related eye changes that occur due to hardening of the lens inside your eye. In the beginning, you may be able to compensate by holding your reading material farther away or holding a light to it. Eventually, you will need reading glasses, multifocal contact lenses, or multifocal eyeglasses.

The ears

Age-related hearing loss, presbycusis, is the slow loss of hearing that occurs as people get older.

Why does it happen? Tiny hairs inside your ear help you hear. When these hairs are damaged or die, hearing loss occurs. Half of folks 75 and older have some degree of age-related hearing loss. High-frequency hearing goes first so women’s voices become harder to hear than men’s voices (how convenient).

Memory, specifically visual short-term memory

While this may differ widely among people, a hallmark of aging is a decline in visual short-term memory.

What does that mean? Visual short-term memory is the ability to maintain a visual representation in mind after the sensory input (object) has been removed. This matters for memory and thinking because deficits in visual short-term memory have been proposed to cause problems in higher-order (more complicated) cognitive tasks.  

The big joints: knees and hips

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip and knee is a leading cause of suffering and disability. Age is the primary risk factor for OA or “wear and tear” arthritis.

Why does this happen? The cells that make cartilage decline in quality and number as you age, so the older joint has a lower reserve to deal with impact. While there is no way to completely prevent osteoarthritis, some people who have knee and hip arthritis won’t have any symptoms. Oh, and there is also the option of knee and hip replacement.

Skin

The purple bruises that fade to brown over several months and occur most commonly on the back of your hands, that’s aging.

Why does this happen? Age-related thinning of the skin, atrophy of subcutaneous tissue, and weakened capillaries cause bruising in older people. This bruising is commonly seen on the back of the hands, forearms, and shins without any known trauma.

The valve at the end of your esophagus

“Why can’t I eat spicy food now that I’m older?” Reflux disease (GERD) is more common as we get older and causes heartburn with spicy foods.

Why does this happen? Lower pressures in the valve at the lower end of the esophagus occur which is designed to keep acid in the stomach, this allows acid to reflux, or flow backward.

The Achilles: the largest tendon in the body

Aging alone increases the chance of injury to the Achilles tendon leading to Achilles tendonitis. Pain in the tendon, heel pain and stiffness are common complaints from patients.  

Why does this happen? The Achilles tendon doesn’t age well due to stiffness, lack of blood supply, and the combination of forces placed on it. Luckily you can get rid of Achilles tendonitis with ice, rest, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs but physical therapy, orthotics, and surgery may be necessary for total relief.

The neck

Wrinkles on the neck show your age, no matter how many creams you put on it.

Why does this happen? The neck contains thinner skin, more sensitive to sun damage and other factors that wrinkle the skin. The muscles and skin tissue supporting the neck area are weaker than that of the face so neck skin is more vulnerable to gravity over time.

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The pelvic floor

Ladies, do your Kegels. The pelvic floor is the hammock of muscles and ligaments that support the bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum which starts to fail as we get older. Symptoms include urinary incontinence and prolapse (sagging) of the bladder or uterus. Twenty-seven percent of women ages 40 to 59 and 37 percent of women ages 60 to 79 will experience pelvic floor dysfunction.

The whites, or “off-whites” of your eyes

The color of the sclera, the white part of your eye, changes with age from bluish (in babies) to yellowish.

Why? This is because of accumulation of fat in the scleral tissue.

Dr. O

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