Understanding About the Aging Process for Parents: Part 1 of 4

It’s probably happened to you already. You’ve been with mom or dad, spending time with them when suddenly you think to yourself, “Oh my gosh … they’re old.” While this realization may seem to have come out of nowhere, once the lightbulb has gone off, you will probably start thinking about different events and interactions in a new light. Perhaps you’ve brushed off the gray hair as distinguished, or told yourself those wrinkles have always been there.

The sudden understanding that you have aging parents can be jarring to adult children, no matter how much you may have prepared for it mentally. “This can be a challenging time for many, because roles are beginning to shift,” says Andrea Campisi of The Reutlinger. “Parents are entering a stage of life where they may need to be ‘parented,’ and adult children will have to balance their conflicting feelings about supporting their parents and understanding this new phase of life.

At The Reutlinger, we are experts in the aging process, and strive to educate our residents, future residents and adult children about what to expect as a parent ages. In this four-part series, we’ll explore the aging process and provide tips to help adult children navigate and manage these changes.

The Science of Aging

When you think of aging, what springs to mind? For many it’s, gray hair, wrinkles, walkers and dentures. Others may immediately think of retirement, aching joints and afternoon naps. Whatever it means to you specifically, we can all agree that aging is the wear and tear that happens to our bodies the longer we live. While aging happens to all living things, it’s actually one of nature’s least understood processes, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure about why we age and what causes it. One theory is the “cellular clock,” which revolves around the fact that we age because our cells have maxed out their ability to reproduce and simply wear out. Another theory focuses on “free radicals,” which states that when cells encounter a radical (basically an unstable atom), the radical causes the cell to self-destruct. As more and more cells become damaged, we age.

No matter what the underlying reason is, we do age, meaning we have to adjust our perceptions of what we can do, how we can stay healthy and – on a psychological level – re-define who we are.

When Do We Start Aging?

Age-related changes don’t happen to everyone at the same time. You probably know of individuals who look old before their time, or know of 70-year-olds who could pass for 40. Aging is an individualized process, and depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Overall health
  • Environment
  • Culture
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Activity levels

While we think of “aging” as happening in our 50s or 60s, changes start happening to our bodies as early as age 30. According to researchers, bodies lose about 1% of their functioning every year after age 30, but we’re usually able to “roll with the changes” so we don’t feel them (unless there’s an underlying disease or illness involved). And while there’s an element of “loss” involved, we should actually look at aging as a “life-saving process,” according to Kenneth Minaker, MD, chief of geriatric medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Aging … is a process of lifelong adaptation to prevent us from developing cancers that would kill us,” he says.

It’s incredibly important, as we or our loved ones age, to understand what “normal aging” looks like versus symptoms that point to something more serious. It’s easy to chalk up a loved one’s symptoms to “that’s just what happens when you get old” when it’s actually an issue that could be controlled or even reversed.

What Normal Aging Looks Like

So what does normal aging – and abnormal aging – look like? Here are some of the most common changes that take place for seniors, as well as some watch-fors that may denote a more serious problem:

  • Reduced vision. By around the age of 40, the lenses of our eyes start to stiffen, which makes it more difficult to adjust and refocus between near- and long-distance vision. Cataracts begin to develop, too, usually around the age of 60 or 65. But while reading glasses become a part of daily life, vision loss or blurred vision shouldn’t be. Issues like glaucoma, macular degeneration and others can pop up at this time and can result in permanent damage if not addressed early on.
  • Loss of hearing. Just as our eyes start to fail, our ears start to become less sensitive to high-pitched and muffled sounds due to the hardening of sound receptors. However, if pain is present, or if one ear is significantly worse than the other, this could be an indication of a deeper problem.
  • Loss of stamina and strength. Our bodies begin to lose muscle tissue as we age, which makes stretching and weight training a must in order to retain abilities. Other parts of our bodies begin to change as well, such as our heart walls thickening, the stiffening of arteries and a slowing heart rate. While dad no longer running marathons shouldn’t be a cause for worry, a check-up is necessary if dizziness, nausea, fainting or chest pain start to present.
  • Heightened blood pressure. The changes taking place in our bodies make us more vulnerable to medical issues such as hypertension and high blood pressure. More than half of people over the age of 60 have high blood pressure, so maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a low-sodium diet is key to healthy aging.
  • Memory loss. This is, for most people, the biggest indicator of age. Also known as “senior moments,” it happens when we forget the names of people we’ve known forever or when we can’t remember where we placed our keys. But don’t worry – there’s no need to fret about these momentary lapses, unless it’s starting to negatively affect daily life. The ability to process information starts to slow as we age, and seniors have difficulty multitasking. However, if mom or dad is having difficulty learning and retaining information or losing the ability to recognize objects, it’s best to get a checkup to see if it could be something more serious like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

For more information on the aging process and tips on what’s normal (and what’s not), please contact our team at The Reutlinger. We would love to speak with you and find out how we can make this transition as smooth and easy as possible for you and your aging parents.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering assisted living, enhanced assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and

rehabilitation, The Reutlinger provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger’s newly renovated 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.