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The Normal
Aging Process

Everyone ages. It can't be avoided! Some people age gracefully while others just get old. So, what’s the difference between aging gracefully and just getting old? When things get old, they are seen as being no longer useful. In contrast, aging is a process that can be managed — with the outcome being something that is more desirable and more valuable!

As a caregiver, it's easy to see the negative side of aging. Many of your clients are probably sick or disabled. Some may be confused — unable to complete the simplest task. When you see older clients suffering, you may come to think of getting older as a time of loneliness and dependence.

The truth is that most elderly people learn to live with the changes that age brings. And, they enjoy happy and productive lives. Consider these facts:

  • Of all the people ages 75 and older, fewer that 10% live in nursing homes.

  • About 30 percent of all elderly people successfully live alone. Between 40 and 60 percent are married.

  • A CDC poll found that for every ten people (aged 65—74), seven of them are getting at least 20 minutes of moderate physical activity three or more days per week.



Think of all the scientific discoveries man has made. The depth of our curiosity and our knowledge seems limitless. Yet, one pressing issue remains unexplained. Scientists have not yet discovered why and how we age. There are several theories that seem logical, but none tell the whole story.  For example, some researchers believe that the aging process is hereditary — or pre-programmed in our DNA. Others believe that the environment and our lifestyle choices are to blame.

The problem with the first theory is that DNA is easily damaged — and this damage can be sped up by the environment and lifestyle choices. This gives humans the ability to change our DNA destiny. The second theory fails when you see that some people can drink and smoke throughout their whole lives and still live to be 85, while others develop complications and die young. It's likely that aging is a combination of DNA, lifestyle and environment. Here are some factors that influence aging:

  • Genetics/DNA

  • Smoking

  • The sun

  • Poor diet

  • Radiation

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Stress

  • Bad attitude

  • Alcohol and drugs

  • Pollution


As people get older:

  • Their skin gets thinner and loses its ability to stretch. This makes it easier to injure. Once injured, the skin is less able to fight off infection and takes longer to heal.

  • They have fewer sweat glands, so they have trouble keeping their body temperature stable. You may hear them complain about being cold all the time — especially their hands and feet.

  • They lose fat under their skin, so you may see certain bones stick out more including elbows, knees, shoulder blades and hips.

  • Their skin produces less oil, making the skin dry and itchy. The skin also becomes wrinkled and develops brown “age spots” and moles. Older people are also more sensitive to the sun.

  • Fingernails become dry, ridged and brittle, causing them to break more easily. Toenails become thick and hard, making them difficult to trim.


To help your clients prevent skin problems, you should:

  • Keep their skin clean and dry, but don’t use too much soap. Soap dries the skin and will make any problem with itching or flaking even worse. Apply moisturizing lotion to any areas of dry skin after bathing.

  • File their fingernails as needed. But, don’t trim their toenails unless specifically ordered to do so. Many elderly clients need to see a podiatrist (foot doctor) to have their toenails trimmed.

  • Encourage them to change position frequently to prevent skin breakdown. If your clients can’t change position by themselves, help them do so every two hours or as ordered.

  • Help your elderly clients dress appropriately for the weather. Dressing in layers is a good idea. Then, they can put on or remove a layer depending on how they feel. In addition, help them avoid getting sunburned.

  • Be very careful during client transfers. For example, it’s very easy to tear skin when transferring elderly people from a bed to a wheelchair. Take your time during the transfer procedure and make sure your client is wearing socks and shoes.


Watch for and report:

  • Signs of skin breakdown like pressure sores and skin tears.

  • Bruises or “black & blue” areas.

  • Signs of infection (like redness, swelling, pus and skin that is warm to the touch).

  • New or worsening rashes.

As people get older:

  • They have problems with their vision due to changes in the eye muscles. These problems include trouble reading small print without reading glasses, difficulty seeing objects off to the side, problems seeing in dim light or at night, and trouble seeing certain colors. (Blues, greens and purples all tend to look alike.)

  • The eyes produce fewer tears causing dry eyes. In addition, cataracts and eye infections are common.

  • Some gradual hearing loss is normal. It becomes more difficult to hear higher-pitched sounds.

  • The inner ear stiffens causing it to distort sound or cause ringing in the ears. It may also affect a person’s balance.

  • The tongue has fewer taste buds, especially for sweet and salt. This can cause people to add too much salt or sugar to their food and they may lose their appetite.

  • Their sense of smell is less sharp, so they may have trouble identifying common odors.


To help your clients prevent sensory problems, you should: 

  • Be sure to get their attention first before speaking to them. If they have some hearing loss, they’ll have a better chance of understanding you if they look at you while you speak.

  • Speak in short, simple sentences. In addition, lower the tone of your voice (since high-pitched sounds are harder to hear).

  • Encourage them to use their hearing aids and/or glasses. If they don’t seem to want to use them, try to find out why. For example, are the hearing aids uncomfortable? Perhaps they can be adjusted. Are the glasses the right prescription? Maybe the client needs an eye exam.

  • Avoid moving furniture and/or personal items. This will help your clients with vision problems know their environment.

  • Make sure your clients have good lighting, especially if they are trying to read or write. Use a night light near the bed and/or in the bathroom.

  • Guard against falls ... especially if you notice your client has a problem with balance.

Watch for and report:

  • Any new vision problems.

  • Any new hearing loss.

  • Problems with hearing aids or eyeglasses.

  • Problems with balance.


As people get older:

  • The thymus gland begins to shrink. This is the gland where T-cells go to become mature. T-cells help attack foreign invaders (like germs and viruses) in the body. Immature T-cells cannot fight off the invaders as well as they once did.

  • There is an increased risk for getting sick and for getting sicker than others from even simple illnesses like the common cold.

  • Immunizations, like the flu shot, may not work as well or last as long as expected.

  • Sensation changes, gait changes, changes in the skin structure increase the risk of getting an injury where bacteria can enter broken skin.

To help your clients prevent illnesses, you should:

  • Protect them from others who may be sick, like yourself, their friends or family and other clients.

  • Encourage your clients to get up-to-date on immunizations, even if they were immunized in the past. Doctors generally recommend:

    • Adult tetanus (Td) immunization every 10 years (a booster may be given sooner if there is a dirty wound)

    • Pneumovax (to prevent pneumonia or its complications)

    • Flu vaccine (yearly)

    • Hepatitis A and B immunizations.


Help your clients avoid unnecessary illnesses by encouraging them to:

  • Exercise

  • Eat a well-balanced diet

  • Stop smoking

  • Limit alcohol use

  • Avoid falls and other injuries

Watch for and report:

  • Signs of infection in a wound, such as redness, warmth, pain, discharge or a red line streaking away from the wound.

  • Signs of cold and the flu, such as coughing, congestion, and runny nose with a fever, shaking or chills.

  • Any excessive swelling, pain or redness in the joints.


While there is no “fountain of youth,” there are ways to slow down the aging process. You can help your clients feel their best by following these tips:

  • Remember that the elderly are at risk for injury from accidents. For example, many older people fall from tripping over something on the floor. Check your client’s environment regularly for possible safety hazards — and fix or report any problems.

  • Encourage your clients to stretch their muscles regularly. Even ten minutes of stretching every other day helps prevent age-related stiffness.

  • Find something to laugh about with your older clients. It’s important to hold onto a sense of humor as we age, and laughing helps people feel young and alive.

  • Help your clients look their best with tidy clothes, combed hair and clean nails. Your female clients might enjoy a touch of make up or fingernail polish. Make sure your male clients get a regular shave.

  • Encourage your overweight clients to lose weight. Keep in mind that 33% of Americans are obese — and obesity causes people to age rapidly.

  • Suggest that your older clients make regular visits to their physician, eye doctor and dentist. There are a number of screening tests that can be done to catch common illnesses early — including cancer, diabetes, glaucoma and thyroid disease.

  • If the weather cooperates and your clients are physically able, encourage them to get some fresh air and sunshine every day. Thirty minutes of sunshine a day gives the body a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

  • Remind your clients to wash their hands regularly — just as you do — to avoid spreading germs to themselves and others.

  • Encourage your clients to stay in touch with the world around them by reading the newspaper, watching the news on TV or surfing the internet. (Yes, elderly people enjoy computers, too!)

  • Above all, help your clients get some kind of exercise every day — whatever they can tolerate and their doctor will allow. Even ashort walk, done daily, will help keep the body young and active. (What’s that saying? Move it or lose it! So, get your clients moving and they’ll feel and look younger.)

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