September is Healthy Aging Month. A big part of healthy aging is prior healthy living, particularly as you reach the age at which your unhealthy habits begin to catch up with you or otherwise naturally aging processes begin to demonstrate themselves emphatically. Being on the other side of 40 is an exercise in self-reflection and understanding of limitations previously not existent. I’m still pushing the rock up the mountain, but I’ve seen the challenges of maintaining and continuing to advance. This is a lot to digest, so I’m going to go through five different body systems this week in a simple way: system – changes – challenges – solutions. If you’re keeping score, especially focus on the take home messages within solutions. And don’t be depressed! Forewarned is forearmed. Take action! I welcome any questions or comments.
Part 1/5: Your Skin
Changes: As the skin ages, blood flow to the skin is decreased, and nerve endings are lost or become less sensitive. As a result, the skin loses some of its effectiveness as a protector against bacteria, as an insulator, as a heat/cold regulator, and as a sensory receptor. These losses cause wrinkling, loss of elasticity, freedom of movement, and expression are inhibited. The slowing of circulation results in slower healing. The loss of color is also seen, as the hair becomes gray.
Challenges: The skin generally functions well throughout life though, and most changes in the skin due to aging are not life threatening. Most of the damaging changes in the skin are cosmetic. The drying and thinning result in sagging and wrinkling, the hair becomes sparser and gray or white, and the fingernails become rigid, tend to yellow, and are prone to splitting. Skin disorders more common in the aging skin include enhanced itching, thickening in patches, skin cancer, ulcers/pressure sores, and herpes zoster (shingles). These effects bring social implications based on a significant cultural tendency toward ageism. One’s social life becomes more limited as younger people view elders as “not fun”, “slow”, “grumpy”, less desirable as friends and sexual partners, and so on. These views spill into the workplace or what might be a potential workplace, as one who looks “old” is not considered as having ‘much’ to offer.
Solutions: Two words: hydrate and moisturize. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun, maintain moisture in the skin, provide adequate nutrition so that the skin can be maintained and repaired, and get regular exercise to maintain circulation in the skin. Sounds simple, but we really fail to adhere to this consideration. Many of these changes can be delayed for very long periods of time.
Post-Script: I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that those of you of all races and ethnicities must be diligent in getting rapidly growing or changing moles evaluated. It is an untruth that Blacks and Browns don’t get skin cancer.
Post-Post-Script: Ever imagine what effect holding a cigarette up to your face for decades has? Here’s a depiction.
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