One of the most notable demographic changes of the late twentieth century concerns the aging of the population. Advances in medicine, increased hygiene and the growing path towards healthy habits have led to an increase in life expectancy. In this article, we will talk about the changes associated with aging.
Changes due to aging
Body composition changes with age. Fat mass and body fat increase, while lean muscle mass decreases.
Loss of muscle mass, strength and muscle function can be age-related and significantly affect the quality of life of the elderly. This process is known as sarcopenia and results in a reduction in mobility, an increased risk of falls and an alteration in metabolic rates.
Currently, there is no specific degree of lean mass loss that determines the diagnosis of sarcopenia. All losses are important, due to the close connection between muscle mass and strength.
Sarcopenia begins in old age; the process accelerates from approximately the age of 75.
Sarcopenic obesity, on the other hand, is the loss of lean muscle mass in older people with excessive adipose tissue. Excess weight and reduction in muscle mass contribute to the reduction of physical activity, which in turn accelerates sarcopenia.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to “sedentary death syndrome”. This definition refers to the life- threatening health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
A sedentary lifestyle can be defined as the equivalent of burning less than 200 calories per day through physical activity. Obviously, this has consequences: increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, obesity, overweight and even death.
Changes in taste and smell during aging
Diet and nutrition can be compromised by poor oral hygiene. Tooth loss, the use of dentures, and xerostomia – dry mouth syndrome – can cause difficulty chewing and swallowing.
People with these mouth problems often opt for soft, easy-to-chew foods and avoid some more nutritionally rich options, such as whole grains, fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats.
Similarly, loss of some senses affects people to varying degrees, at different rates, and at different ages. Genetics, environment and lifestyle intervene in the deterioration of the sensory faculties.
Age-related disturbances in taste, smell, and touch can lead to loss of appetite, inadequate food choices, and low nutritional intake.
Although some dysgeusia (altered sense of taste), loss of taste or hyposmia (reduced sense of smell) are attributable to aging, many changes are also due to medications.
As the taste and smell thresholds are high, older people may be tempted by overly seasonal foods, especially the tendency to add more salt to dishes, which can have a negative effect.
Taste and smell stimulate metabolic processes such as saliva secretion, gastric acid and pancreatic juices and increase plasma insulin levels. Therefore, less sensory stimulation can prevent these mechanisms.
Aging and gastrointestinal disorders
Gastrointestinal changes can adversely affect nutrient intake, especially as organ aging begins.
Dysphagia, a dysfunction that affects swallowing, is usually associated with neurological disease and aging. This increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia, an infection caused by the entry of fluid or food into the lungs. Thick liquids and modified texture foods can help people with dysphagia eat more safely.
With age, gastric upset can also occur. The reduced function of the gastric mucosa results in the inability to resist attacks such as ulcers, cancer and infections.
Gastritis causes inflammation and pain, delayed gastric emptying and discomfort. All of this affects the bioavailability of nutrients such as calcium and zinc and increases the risk of developing diseases such as osteoporosis.
And then there is achlorhydria, that is, insufficient production of acid in the stomach, which is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 deficiencies can also occur in these cases. Symptoms are often misdiagnosed because they resemble those of Alzheimer’s or other chronic diseases.
Finally, the incidence of diverticulosis and constipation are common during aging. The main causes of constipation are insufficient fluid intake, a sedentary lifestyle and a low intake of fiber in the diet. Constipation is also caused by prolonged intestinal transit and certain medications, such as narcotics.
To conclude, aging is an unstoppable phenomenon, however having healthy habits and taking care of health over the years can help us promote physical and mental well-being.