The result of a combination of natural, largely genetically programmed changes occurring in all body systems. Diseases or injuries may inﬂuence these changes, which impair the body’s homeostatic mechanisms; environment and lifestyle also aﬀect the ageing process.
The eﬀects of ageing include: cessation of MENSTRUATION in females; wrinkling of the skin due to a loss of elastic tissue; failing memory (especially short term) and a reduced ability to learn new skills, along with slowed responses
– changes caused by the loss of or less eﬃcient working of nerve cells; the senses become less acute; the lungs become less eﬃcient, as does heart muscle, both causing a fall in exercise tolerance; arteries harden, resulting in a rise in blood pressure and poor blood circulation; joints are less mobile, bones beome more brittle (OSTEOPOROSIS) and muscle bulk and strength are reduced; the lens of the EYE becomes less elastic, resulting in poorer sight, and it may also become opaque (CATARACT).
In developed countries people are living longer, in part because infant and child mortality rates have dropped dramatically over the past 100 years or so. Improved standards of living and more eﬀective health care have also contributed to greater longevity: the proportion of people over 65 years of age has greatly increased, and that of the over-75s is still rising. The 2001 census found 336,000 people in the UK aged over 90 and there are 36,000 centenarians in the US. This extreme longevity is attributed to a particular gene (see GENES) slowing the ageing process. Interestingly, those living to 100 often retain the mental faculties of people in their 60s, and examination of centenarians’ brains show that these are similar to those of 60-year-olds. (See MEDICINE OF AGEING; CLIMACTERIC.)
Help and advice can be obtained from Age
Concern and Help the Aged. See www.helpthaged.org.uk www.ageconcern.org.uk