Things change with our bodies as we get older – but what is part of normal healthy ageing and what may be something to be concerned about. Learn more here.

Things change with our bodies as we get older – but what is part of normal healthy ageing and what may be something to be concerned about.  

Is memory loss always a part of ageing? How much loss is considered normal?

Some memory loss does occur as we age. Not only do we lose brain cells linked to memory, we also manufacture less of the chemicals these cells need to function properly. The ageing brain also stores information in a slightly different way, making recollection of recent events harder. So as we age it's not unusual to find ourselves at a loss for names or unable to remember where we put our car keys. That's normal.

If, however, you can't remember how to do simple things, or if, for example, you can't follow directions, get easily lost in your own neighbourhood, or can't follow a recipe, you may have a more serious type of memory loss, usually indicative of a health concern such as a type of dementia, for example Alzheimer's disease, and not simply the result of ageing.

How much exercise do people over 50 really need?

NHS guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for adults aged 19-64.

That said, no matter how strong you feel, once you're past 50 it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise programme.

Is osteoarthritis a part of ageing, and is there a way to reduce risks, even after 50?

Osteoarthritis, a breakdown of the cartilage between our joints, is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.

It occurs mostly in the knees, hips, small joints of the hands, and the neck. Symptoms, including pain and stiffness, usually begin after 40 and become more apparent as we age.

Ageing definitely increases the likelihood of getting osteoarthritis, and if we live long enough almost everyone develops it to some degree. Heredity factors can also play a role. However, the degree to which you are affected is more often determined by how much you overused your joints in your youth, particularly if you had a bone or joint injury.

Your weight also makes a big difference, particularly for osteoarthritis of the hips and knees. For every extra half a kilo you gain, you add about one and a half kilos of pressure to your knees and the pressure on your hips increases six-fold. Conversely, losing even a little weight can reduce symptoms and slow the progress of the condition. Building strong leg muscles can also help reduce osteoarthritis of the knee.

Do sleep needs change as we age? How much sleep do we need after 50?

As children and adolescents we need more sleep than as young adults. However, by our senior years we need the same seven to nine hours a night we did in our teens.

Though studies show most sleep problems are not related to ageing, sometimes medical or emotional conditions linked to getting older can interfere with sleep. Indeed, the US National Sleep Foundation reports older adults with four or more health problems are 80% more likely to report sleep problems, compared with 53% who report better health.

Ageing also affects our sleeping patterns, causing us to feel sleepy earlier in the evening and awake earlier in the morning, even if we were typically a night person before.

Getting enough sleep is particularly important after 50 since a lack can increase the risk of memory problems and depression, as well as falls.

What exactly is "preventive care", and what do you need after 50?

Preventive care is just a fancy term for making sure you are doing everything you can to protect your health! That means knowing what screening services you are entitled to under the NHS. For more details of the programmes in your particular country of the UK, please go to www.screening.nhs.uk.

The programme for England, for example, covers tests for:

Cervical cancer: Women aged 25-49 are invited for a cervical smear test every three years. Women aged 50-64 are invited every five years. After 65, only those who have not been screened since age 50 or have had recent abnormal tests are invited, but can request a test.

Breast cancer: Women will be called for a mammogram some time between their 50th and 53rd birthday and every three years after that until the age of 70. Women over 70 can request screening every three years, but don’t get an invitation. The breast screening programme is being extended to also include women aged 47-49 years old and women aged 71-73 years old.

Bowel cancer: At 60, men and women receive their first faecal occult blood testing kit (FOBt kit) in the post. The kit is used to collect tiny samples of bowel motions. The test kit is then returned to a laboratory for analysis. A test kit will be sent every two years, until you reach 70. People over 70 can request a kit, but are not sent them automatically.

In addition to the screening programmes above, there is a range of medical tests that you can ask your GP to organise for you. They include tests for:

  1.  High blood pressure
  2. Diabetes
  3. Cholesterol
  4. Anaemia
  5. Thyroid function
  6. Lung/airway function
  7. Heart disease
  8. Prostate cancer
  9. Osteoporosis
  10. Glaucoma

I see lots of vitamin supplements for the "golden years". Are they necessary?

Our nutritional needs change as we age. Many of us don't eat as well, plus certain vitamins and nutrients can be more easily depleted from our bodies as we age. These include vitamin B12 (our ability to absorb it from foods can be reduced with age); calcium (needed for strong bones); vitamin D (our skin doesn't make it as well when we are older); and vitamin B6 (which may be needed to keep red blood cells healthy and strong).

Most experts agree that a healthy diet should provide all the nutrients needed.

Most vitamin D comes from some safe exposure to the summer sun, and from diet. However, it is hard to get the daily amount of vitamin D needed from food, so since summer 2016 health experts have advised that most adults and children aged 4 and over should consider taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D every day during autumn and winter. A daily vitamin D supplement is recommended all year round for those people who do not get much exposure to the sun such as those in institutions (for example care homes), and those who always cover their skin when outside.

If you are taking any prescription medications, check your supplement choice with your doctor. Some nutrients may interfere with certain medications.

I just don't enjoy the things I used to, and I don't feel much like visiting friends or family. Is this part of ageing?

As we age, certain life changes can alter how we feel about things, including activities and people we used to enjoy. For example, the death of loved ones, moving into retirement, or developing health problems can leave us feeling sad, but some reflection on these changes is often all that's necessary before we start feeling more positive again.

When, however, this doesn't occur, depression may be the reason. So anytime you're not feeling "like yourself" for a month or more, talk to your doctor. Simple lifestyle or diet changes, and sometimes medication, may be all you need to find that enthusiasm for life again!

 Do men have to worry about their bone health after 50, or is it only women?

The main risk to bone health as we age is osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disorder that increases the risk of breaking a bone and painful skeletal deformities. The UK’s National Osteoporosis Society reports that one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will fracture a bone at some point, mainly as a result of osteoporosis. And while bones do become weaker as we age, ageing alone is not the cause of osteoporosis. Contributing factors include small bone structure, low weight, and in women, menopause. Men on hormone therapy for prostate cancer are also at high risk. Other medications can also increase risks, including antacids containing aluminium, methotrexate (for cancer), heparin (a blood thinner), colestyramine (for high cholesterol), and some seizure medications.

To reduce risks, men and women should increase calcium intake, stop smoking, keep alcohol consumption low, and exercise regularly, particularly weight-bearing workouts such as walking.

How important is it to stop smoking? Isn't the damage already done?

No matter your age, stopping smoking immediately reduces some important health risks. It is well known that, when an older person stops smoking, circulation immediately improves. The lungs begin an immediate repair process, and just one year after quitting the risk of heart disease linked to smoking is cut almost in half, along with a reduced risk of stroke, lung disease, and some cancers.

Moreover, men who quit smoking at 65 add up to two years to their life, while women add almost four years. Together with watching your weight and getting enough exercise, quitting smoking could help you live significantly longer.

What happens if you don't quit? The NHS says smoking is the single biggest avoidable risk factor for cancer. It is responsible for one in four of all UK cancer deaths. Smoking also doubles your risk of having a stroke.

Smoking is also behind an increased risk of having heart attack, developing dementia such as Alzheimer's disease, as well as cataracts.

How much alcohol can someone over 50 safely drink, and does our tolerance change with ageing?

The safety of alcohol intake at any age is highly personal and dependent on individual health risks and medication use. Though for some a drink or two every day is fine, for others, even one drink can be harmful.

However, our tolerance for alcohol does decrease with age. That means you'll feel the impact of what you drink sooner, with less alcohol needed to slow reflexes and reaction times than when you were younger.

If you enjoy a daily cocktail or glass of wine or beer, check with your doctor to make certain it won't interfere with your health or your treatments. If you are having more than one drink per day, make sure your doctor knows; it's an important part of your medical record and could influence treatment now and in the future.

Source Boots Web MD, reviewed 26 July 2016

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