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Our Bodies as We Age

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After age 40, almost everyone has a harder time seeing things that are closer than 2 feet. 

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After age 40, almost everyone has a harder time seeing things that are closer than 2 feet. 

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You may first notice it while trying to read a menu. Almost all adults get a vision problem called presbyopia, which means you have trouble seeing close up. It often starts in your early 40s.

 

Non-prescription reading glasses usually help. Their lenses magnify things, and you can find an inexpensive pair at your local drugstore. If you already wear glasses or contacts for distance, consider getting bifocals or “no-line” progressive lenses.

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You may feel the need to take more antacid medicine as you get older. 

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You may feel the need to take more antacid medicine as you get older. 

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That fiery feeling that starts in your upper chest and moves up into your throat could come on more often as you age. Heartburn is more common in older people and pregnant women. Over-the-counter antacids can usually help for mild symptoms. But tell your doctor if heartburn keeps coming back, you have it more than twice a week, or it’s severe.

You can expect to wake up with aching joints when you're older. 

You can expect to wake up with aching joints when you're older. 

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Not everyone will get stiffness and pain in their joints, but your chance of getting arthritis does go up as you age. Half of people 65 and older have it, and most of them have osteoarthritis. That happens when the tissue that protects bones in your joints starts to wear away. When there’s no tissue left, the bones rub against each other. You’re most likely to have pain or stiffness in your hands, neck, back, knees, or hips.

You may have a harder time hearing, especially women’s and kids’ voices.

You may have a harder time hearing, especially women’s and kids’ voices.

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Women and children naturally have higher-pitched voices, and these types of sounds are often the first to go from our hearing. Over time, the hair cells inside your ear that send sound waves to the brain become less sensitive. That makes it hard, for example, to distinguish “P” from “T.” The condition, called presbycusis, is sometimes passed down in families, but it can also be caused by loud noise, smoking, or illness. It can also be a side effect of some antibiotics or aspirin.

Aging means the end of sex.

Aging means the end of sex.

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Many older people are still sexually active. But half of sexually active 75- to 85-year-olds say they have some problems. Some men have erectile dysfunction, but there are treatments for that. A woman’s clitoris stays vital with age -- she may just need lubrication and extra foreplay to get the blood moving faster.

You’ll get shorter.

You’ll get shorter.

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Between ages 30 and 70, men can lose an inch of height, and women can lose about 2 inches. After age 80, both can lose even more. The cartilage between your joints can wear out and compress your spine. And muscles may get weaker and not hold you up as well. Thinning bones are often a culprit, too.

 

Getting shorter too quickly can be a warning sign that you're at a greater risk for hip and spine fractures, so talk to your doctor if you notice a big or sudden change.

What might get bigger?

What might get bigger?

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As the old song asks, “Do your ears hang low?” The cartilage in them keeps growing, and that may make your ears get a little longer. Your nose may only seem larger because the connective tissue weakens, allowing it to droop.

Older people are more likely to get constipated.

Older people are more likely to get constipated.

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Anyone can have trouble going to the bathroom, but it’s a pretty common problem as you age. Lack of exercise, changes in diet, medicines, and health problems all can play a role. If you use laxatives too often, your body can forget how to go on its own. What can you do to get regular? Keep active. Eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. And drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.

Which of these causes wrinkles?

Which of these causes wrinkles?

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Skin begins to age when you hit your 20s. Your body doesn’t make as much collagen and elastin, proteins that help your flesh stay plump and firm. Your skin becomes thinner and doesn’t spring back into place as well after you smile, frown, or squint.

 

Doing exercises to “strengthen” facial muscles can make things worse. Instead, reach for the sunscreen before you go outside, and if you smoke, quit.

Both men and women may end up growing unwanted hair.

Both men and women may end up growing unwanted hair.

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Women: After menopause, you may lose some hair on your head and grow it on your chin or upper lip. This happens in part because you have less estrogen to counter the effects of testosterone. It’s just part of the aging process.

 

Men: Aging may change your hair situation, too. You may lose it on your head and gain some in your ears and nose.

You won’t need as much sleep.

You won’t need as much sleep.

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Your shut-eye needs stay the same throughout adulthood. Even so, older folks take longer to fall asleep, spend more time in lighter stages of sleep, and wake up more often in the night. Some of these issues relate to other health problems or medications. Also, the body’s internal clock, which controls when you sleep and wake, seems to have seniors going to bed and getting up much earlier, too.

Older people are more optimistic than younger ones.

Older people are more optimistic than younger ones.

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The elderly are more likely to look on the sunny side of life, studies show. They generally get less negative and remember events more positively than younger people do. Thinking about the past puts many of them in a good mood.

Losing control of your bladder is an unavoidable part of aging.

Losing control of your bladder is an unavoidable part of aging.

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Bladder problems become more common with age. But they don’t happen to everyone. And if you do have problems, you don’t have to live with them. There are many ways to treat bladder issues, from changing what you eat or drink (less caffeine!) to medicine or surgery.

Your thinking abilities always begin to decline after your early 20s.

Your thinking abilities always begin to decline after your early 20s.

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Your brain reaches its maximum size in your early 20s, and then it starts to shrink slowly. Blood flow also decreases over time. But some types of memory can improve throughout life, like your ability to recall concepts and facts. Talk to your doctor if you have memory lapses that interfere with your day-to-day life. Losing your keys once in a while is normal. Forgetting what they’re for is not.

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