Our ageing bodies: what’s normal and what’s not

As you age, you’ll notice changes to your body and physical functions, some of which may be of concern, but are simply a sign of ageing. Here are some examples of what’s normal – and what’s worrying – as you age.

Eyesight
What’s normal: After you turn 40 you might notice a change in your eyesight. You may have difficulty reading ingredients on food packaging or threading a needle. This can be fixed with prescription spectacles. Other signs include mildly burning or watery eyes, which are easily remedied with eyedrops.

What’s not: Sudden increases in ‘floaters’ or flashes of light. This may mean you have a torn retina. If colours become desaturated or you see haloes around lights, you may have cataracts. Foggy vision may indicate macular degeneration. If you have trouble seeing moving objects, such as cars or people riding bikes, then you may have glaucoma or deteriorating peripheral vision. These conditions can all lead to permanent loss of vision.

Hearing
What’s normal: Around 22 per cent of Australians suffer some form of hearing loss. As you age, you may experience hearing loss, either due to genetics or changes to the blood flow to your inner ear. This is easily fixed with a hearing device.

What’s not: If your occupation has included prolonged exposure to loud noises, then you may have tinnitus, which sounds like a constant ringing or rushing in your ear. You can also lose your hearing due to a virus or infection. Heart disease, medicines, head injuries and tumours can also cause permanent hearing loss.

Memory
What’s normal: You won’t be as quick to recall a name or a specific word. You may even have trouble instantly recalling where you last left your sunglasses or keys. But, with enough time and with visual cues, it will come back to you.

What’s not: If you’re having trouble remembering things that happened just yesterday; if you’re repeating yourself without realising it; if you can’t remember where you parked your car or you constantly lose items around the house and can’t find them no matter how long you try. If this type of memory loss interferes with your day-to-day life, then you may have dementia.  

Aches and pains
What’s normal: As you age, the protein that helps to build bone, tendons, ligaments and cartilage – collagen – begins to deteriorate. This will lead to occasional aches and pains in your joints and spine. But you can address this with physical therapy, pain medicine or foods that discourage inflammation.

What’s not: If you experience pain during the night, such as back pain, you could have a potential cancer, infection or severe inflammation. If the pain occurs even without an obvious injury, it could mean you have osteoporosis. Any numbness, tingling or weakness in your joints are also a sign that something isn’t right.

Sleep
What’s normal: In your later years, your brain’s efficiency in carrying out sleep-related functions begins to decline. This usually begins in your 40s, but isn’t recognisable until you hit your 50s or 60s. Your brain also produces less melatonin, which helps to regulate sleep at night and your wakefulness during the day. So, you may toss and turn a little bit more at night and you’ll probably notice that you fall asleep earlier at night and wake earlier in the morning.

What’s not: Fragmented sleep can be caused by medicines, depression, arthritis, osteoarthritis or, for men, prostate issues. Oversleeping can also be a sign of depression.

Do you worry about your body as you age, or do you merely take it in your stride? Do you have any suggestions for managing an ageing body?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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