Aging and the Loss of Body Functions
Dimensions of Health – HCS433
In today’s society many elderly individuals continue to live in their own homes even though the areas may be in a debilitating condition, or there may be hardships endured due to a shortage of funds, or perhaps their health continues to decline. Older adults prefer remaining in their homes and enjoying the benefits associated with that choice. They have a preference toward having some type of control over their own privacy, independence, and even the psychological benefits associated with such a decision. To many aging adults, home is a very important part of their lives. It is where special family events take place and to many of the elderly it is an expression of themselves and their families, their heritage, and culture.
However, even though today’s elderly are living healthier lives and longer ones, there are those who will experience problems, or a disability of some type that can change their daily living and, instead, create a problem area of physical or mental disability. For an older person to sprain their ankle or have knee surgery can spell havoc on their ability to take care of themselves. Such basic tasks as making one’s meal, shopping for groceries, keeping the house clean, sweeping the leaves and debris off of the steps, and the dishes done can create difficulties in their home and for the one who does the chores. Even a simple function as climbing the stairs would create a big problem for over 35% of aging adults (AARP, 2000a housing survey). Particularly when it comes to a sprained right ankle or wrist, the older person may not drive themselves to-and-from the many places they regularly go to during a normal week. At the very least, over 82% of them preferred to remain in familiar surroundings of their own homes, especially if they have to have assistance taking care of themselves.
A person’s race and gender will have a significant role to play if the older adult has to decide to move or remain in their own surroundings. More aging women than men are likely to remain at home alone, and older African Americans than Caucasians are likely to decide to stay at home by themselves. According to Rubenstein et al., (1992), many times the patients’ practitioners fail miserably in not assessing how their patients’ comprehension of their illness is affecting them or going to affect them, their ability to function, or their knowledge and thoroughness into self-management (Cassell, 1991). This situation results in functional deficits along with a requirement and necessity for educational, rehabilitative, and supportive services as they go about either not knowing or not admitting that it exists.
While African Americans obtain a lot more informal care than their counterparts (Caucasians), Hispanic seniors are more prone to live with members of the family than by themselves, or they would be placed in an institution of some type (Li & Fries, 2005).
From the outset of aging, the older aging adult’s bones appear to be in a healthy mode and being hard and stagnant. They are picture perfect with activity and are in a continuous cycle of being remodeled in that cycle of renewal and destruction until the person dies. As we age, we lose more bone than is made which results in our bones becoming thinner and susceptible to fracture. Osteoporosis accelerates after the older adult reaches 50 – this is a bone loss that is progressively debilitating, disfiguring, and painful. Fractures are easily done and although most seniors do their best to be careful, a simple act such as a cough or pulling on a cupboard door can result in a fall. That fall could cause a fracture or broken bone with little difficulty for those seniors who may experience an advanced form of osteoporosis. Each person goes through this type of suffering on an individual basis.
With the passing of each decade, the senior adult finds that with it comes another infirmity or disfunctionality which could include their eyesight weakening, otherwise known as presbyopia. That is the main and most common cause for requiring reading glasses and manifests itself as an inability (that increases after age 40) to concentrate on objects near us. The tissues encasing the eyes eventually lost their tonal quality. Fat that used to be there is now lost and that results in the senior’s upper droopy eyelids. At this stage of the lifecycle, cataracts come into the picture as they cloud our vision (they prevent the light from penetrating through the eye via the clear lens. They are barely observable in that they develop at a snail’s pace and there is no pain with them. The iris loses its flexibility and the pupils tend to become smaller while the lenses begin to accumulate other substances (yellow). All of these seemingly minor actions predispose the aging adult to glaucoma which is a product of excessive pressure on the inside of their eyeball. This disease can lead to the loss of one’s vision and their eventual blindness. Scientists are still trying to determine just how one becomes afflicted with glaucoma and why it is more prevalent in seniors, African-Americans, and families with a history of it. The Glaucoma Foundation has, therefore, recommended that everybody be tested for glaucoma every four years; after the age of 45 everybody be tested every two years. Should you be of African-American descent, they recommend testing every two years, or if glaucoma has a history in one’s family, or if the senior adult is nearsighted, has high blood pressure, or using cortisone on a long-term basis.
Presbycusis is another term for hearing loss in the senior adult. The aging adult (after the age of 55), finds a couple of changes occurring, namely a hearing loss on all frequencies, their inability to detect a great many changes in the pitch (sounds) which becomes altered dramatically and affects our speech in less understandable tones to other individuals. Those involved in this science are certain that the main reason for diminished hearing is the loss of hair cells. They are the transmitting impulses (of the inner ear) to the nerve transferring them to one’s brain for the necessary processing. Also, some type of injury, exposure to loud noises, certain types of medications, and nerve damage may also be contributors to causing hair cell loss. The senior adult may even experience dizziness or vertigo, a sense of losing one’s balance as part of their hearing loss. Even blurred vision or a sensation of movement when there is none can be part of this disorientation of losing one’s hearing. There is no doubt that changes in their heart rate and blood pressure, fear, anxiety of accompany other problems such as nausea, diarrhea, fainting, and even vomiting can be present.
As to how the loss of these functions would affect an aging adult’s activities and daily living, the first one mentioned (osteoporosis), if an aging adult sprains a wrist or cracks a rib via coughing, they would be unable to help themselves as is their usual practice. The aging adult would certainly have a difficult time dressing themselves or even going to the bathroom, driving themselves to the store or doctor’s office, etc.
Regarding an elderly person’s eyesight, if they develop cataracts or glaucoma, they could have their eyesight gravely impaired and as previously discussed, with glaucoma could come blindness. It would become an act of tediousness trying to read a newspaper or favorite journal and watching television would become boring after a time.
Pertaining to hearing, all of a sudden the senior adult hears themselves saying things such as, “Speak up. I cannot hear you.” Or, “Quit muttering. What did you say?” The aging adult may be part of the 20-30% of the population experiencing dizziness, lightheadedness, a feeling of unsteadiness and losing one’s balance. There is no compensating for this type of disfunctionality, as the symptoms prohibit the senior adult from the merest of activities, even walking around their home, or going outside to pick up the mail, or walking down the block to a neighbor’s home.
Therefore, some of these malfunctions are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. There may also be changes found in one’s heart rate and blood pressure, along with anxiety, fear, or even panic. Along with such changes might be found an inability to concentrate, or a feeling of depression, at the very least a lack of energy and a sensation of tiredness. It would be wise for the senior or aging adult to make an appointment with their doctor and reiterate some of these sensations (or lack thereof) and place themselves in the medical professional’s care.
Cassell, E.J., (1991). The nature of suffering and the goals of medicine. New York: Oxford
Clark, M.C., Foos, P.W. (2008). Human Aging, 2nd Edition. Pearson Education, New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Li, W., Fries, D. (2005). Negatively Charged Sol-Gel Column with Stable Electroosmotic Flow for Online Preconcentration of Zwitterionic Biomolecules in Capillary Electromigration Separations, J. Sep. Sci., 2005, 28 (16), 2153-2164.
Rubenstein, L.V., et al (1992). Improving Patient Function: A Randomized Trial of Functional Disability Screening. Annals of Internal Medicine 111 (10): 836-42.