Exploring The Process Of Aging Physiologically

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The process of aging is one that every human goes through. Aging can be classified as any change in an organism over time (Knight, 1996). The process of aging is an important part of all human societies because it can reflect the biological changes that occur (The Rubins, 2008). Aging can also reveal societal and cultural principles (Tan, 2005). The process of aging covers the process of physical, psychological, and social change (Brown, 1995). Certain dimensions of aging can cultivate and develop over time or they can decline (Weller, 2007). Some senses may slow with age, while ones knowledge may expand (The Rubins, 2008). Recent research shows that even in the late stages of life, there are possibilities for mental, physical, and social development (Tan, 2005). The term aging is somewhat vague. Age is usually measured in years, and months for young infants. There are also different classifications of aging (Brown, 1995). Differences may be made between universal aging, probabilistic aging, chronological aging, and social aging (The Rubins, 2008). The differences are that age changes that all people share, age changes that may happen to some, how old a person is, and society's prospects of how people should act as they grow older (Knight, 1996).

System Changes

Throughout the process of aging, system changes will occur in the human body. These changes can be in outward appearances, the cardio-vascular system, the respiratory system, in musculature, the skeletal system, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, the endocrine system, and in sexuality (Tan, 2005). The most common outer signs of aging involve the hair, skin, and nails (Tan, 2005). As time passes, the skin loses underlying fat layers and oil glands which cause wrinkles (The Rubins, 2008). Also the hair gradually loses its pigmentation and turns gray (The Rubins, 2008). The nails become thicker due to reduced blood flow to the connective tissues (Tan, 2005). Other factors can be considered when the changing of the exterior occurs to the body (Knight, 1996). With these changes comes an increased vulnerability to colds and diseases (Weller, 2007). In the cardio-vascular system, the most notable change is reduced blood flow to the body (Tan, 2005). This can result from a number of factors (Brown, 1995). These factors can include calcification of the heart valves, atherosclerosis, normal atrophy of the heart muscle, and loss of elasticity in artery walls (The Rubins, 2008). The reduced blood flow results in reduced stamina, reduced kidney and liver function, and less cellular nourishment (Tan, 2005). As an effect, the person is more prone to a slower rate of healing and a reduced response to stress (Brown, 1995). Other consequences of these changes are an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and congestive heart failure (Weller, 2007). In the respiratory system there is also a reduction in efficiency. The airways and lung tissue become less flexible with reduced cilia activity (Tan, 2005). The muscles of the rib cage also become weak which reduces the ability to breathe deeply and cough (Weller, 2007). The consequences of these changes can include decreased stamina and also shortness of breath (Knight, 1996). This may impair a person�s ability to live. In musculature, the weakening of all muscles is typically normal in the later years of life (The Rubins, 2008). This can also bring along a replacement of some muscle tissue by fat deposits (Weller, 2007). The results may usually lead to loss of strength (Knight, 1996). Some specific conditions are reduced ability to breathe deeply, reduced gastro-intestinal activity, and bladder incontinence (Weller, 2007). Even though mostly everybody goes through these symptoms, exercise has shown to reduce the severity (Tan, 2005). In the skeletal system, calcium is lost and bones become less dense over the years (Weller, 2007). Osteoporosis and a reduction of weight bearing capacity are usually the leading symptoms of these effects (Weller, 2007). Also height reduction is common as the vertebra begins to thin over time (Weller, 2007). The joints also go under major changes. The most common chronic condition of elderly people is arthritis (Brown, 1995). The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (Weller, 2007). The effects of these conditions can hurt a person�s ability to move around and live their life like they did before (The Rubins, 2008). In the nervous system everyone loses nerve cells as time passes (Weller, 2007). This can lead to a reduced efficiency of nerve transmission (Tan, 2005). This in turn affects response times and coordination. Also over time, the brain shrinks in size (Weller, 2007). These changes can affect the sleeping patterns of certain people by decreasing the normal amount of time they sleep (Weller, 2007). In the gastrointestinal system we experience a reduction in the production of hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and saliva (The Rubins, 2008). These can lead to symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, impaired swallowing, and delayed emptying of the stomach (Tan, 2005). The greater affect is probably in the breakdown and absorption of foods (Weller, 2007). When the symptoms are not treated in time it can lead to capillary weakening, easy bruising, muscle cramping, reduced appetite, weakness, and mental confusion (The Rubins, 2008). In the endocrine system everyone experiences approximately a 1% decrease per year in their metabolic rate (Knight, 1996). This slowing results in food being less well absorbed and utilized (Brown, 1995). It also slows the overall metabolism of drugs (The Rubins, 2008). Reduced stamina is usually a common symptom. For sexual activity, the desire and performance may continue well into a person's later years even though frequency may fade (Tan, 2005). Changes in women include weakening of the ovarian, vaginal, and uterine tissues (The Rubins, 2008). Changes in men include sperm reduction, enlarged prostates, and overall sensitivity decline (Weller, 2007). Both sexes also generally require more stimulation to become aroused and more time to reach orgasm (Weller, 2007).

Sensory Changes

Over time our senses are vital to our ability to gather information and to interact with other people. As time passes there will be changes in vision, changes in hearing, changes in taste and smell, and changes in skin sensitivity (Brown, 1995). There are many factors on the effects of the sensory changes (Tan, 2005). These can include the specific sense affected, the nature of the change, and the extent to which remediation for the changes can be accomplished (The Rubins, 2008). The vision is affected when the pupil begins to decrease in size and in response time to light (Knight, 1996). The affect of these changes leads to older people requiring three times the amount of illumination to see as a younger person (Weller, 2007). Another normal change is thickening and yellowing of the lens of the eye (Weller, 2007). This can result in cataracts, glaucoma, and various retinal disorders (Brown, 1995). The hearing changes that occur because of aging include a decrease in sensitivity to high frequency tones and decreased discrimination of similar pitches (The Rubins, 2008). Changes to the bones and cochlear hair cells of the inner ear usually result in this (Weller, 2007). About 30% of all elderly persons have some kind of hearing impairment (Tan, 2005). There are different types of hearing loss that may result from aging. Examples are high tone loss, flat hearing loss, and difficulty distinguishing words (Weller, 2007). Hearing aids and rehabilitation are usually used, but not all types of hearing loss are curable (Weller, 2007). Hearing is very important for social interactions and hearing loss is considered one of the most socially disabling of all sensory impairments (Tan, 2005). The senses of taste and smell are closely related and important (Knight, 1996). Older adults experience a decline in the ability to taste resulting from a reduction in the total number of taste buds, especially after the age of 80 (The Rubins, 2008). Some older adults also experience a decline in their sense of smell. Some consequences of these changes include a decreased interest in food, a desire for more salty or highly seasoned food, and a reduced awareness of body odor and environmental (Tan, 2005). The sensitivity of skin is also largely affected. While becoming older, the skin becomes less sensitive to sensation, heat, cold, and injury (Weller, 2007). Touch is considered to be one of our most important senses all through life (Brown, 1995). It serves many important functions such as forming a sense of self, relieving stress, giving comfort, and maintaining intimacy (The Rubins, 2008).

Cognitive Effects

Decline is common in many cognitive processes throughout our lifespan (Weller, 2007). Research has focused in particular on memory and has found many types of memory loss associated with aging (The Rubins, 2008). Early studies on changes in cognition with age were generally found declining in the elderly (Tan, 2005). Intelligence can also decline with age, though the rate can vary depending on the type (Weller, 2007). Sometimes it may drop suddenly as people near the end of their lives (Brown, 1995). Individual variations in rate of cognitive decline may therefore be explained in terms of people have different lengths of life (Weller, 2007).


The human life is often divided into various ages. As the process of aging goes on, a person continues to move through the stages of life (Tan, 2005). Different cultures have their own beliefs about when a person is of legal age, but these stages are just classifications of certain periods in a person�s life (Brown, 1995). Pre-birth would consist of anywhere from conception to being born (Knight, 1996). The infancy is usually classified as anywhere from birth to the age of two (Tan, 2005). Childhood is the next stage which is usually classified between the ages of two to twelve (Tan, 2005). After childhood there is adolescence which spans the ages of thirteen to nineteen (Tan, 2005). After adolescence there is early adulthood, which spans from twenty through thirty-four (Tan, 2005). Middle adulthood then follows from the ages of thirty-five to fifty-four (Tan, 2005). That is then followed by late adulthood which is anywhere fifty-five and over, which is then followed by death (Tan, 2005).