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Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Signs of Aging You Shouldn’t Ignore

Symptoms that prohibit the way you function shouldn’t just be expected as you grow older. Know the healthy and not-so-healthy signs of aging.

For many people, the idea of aging is scary, as it is often associated with physical and mental decline and an increased risk of chronic disease. However, with the right lifestyle, healthy aging is achievable. It’s important to first understand which symptoms of aging are considered “normal” and which are not. 

To find out more, we spoke with Dr. Brooke Salzman, geriatrician at the Jefferson Health Center for Healthy Aging, and primary care physician Dr. Edward Reis. They weigh in on signs of aging—such as chronic disease, muscle deterioration and incontinence—and discuss the importance of exercise, nutrition and regular physicals.    

‘Normal’ Signs of Aging vs. Chronic Illness  

Natural changes happen in the body as we age, such as skin damage from sun exposure, loss of muscle and physical strength, loss of some sight and hearing, as well as changes to our sleep patterns, energy levels and appetite. While these symptoms are sometimes considered “normal,” they may have more to do with chronic disease than aging itself.  

“Many chronic diseases, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, become much more prevalent as we age,” says Dr. Salzman. “Any changes in your physical and mental health, even small ones, can indicate the onset of one of these common illnesses.” Seek medical attention for serious symptoms or those that appear suddenly, including: 

  • Extreme fatigue, which could indicate a number of illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, liver disease or heart disease 
  • Urinary incontinence, which can happen as the bladder muscle weakens over time, but, if persistent, can indicate conditions such as an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer in men, or symptoms of menopause in women  
  • Major bumps, moles or changes to your skin, which can indicate skin cancer 
  • Loss of appetite, which can be caused by conditions including chronic liver disease, kidney failure, heart failure, dementia or cancer 
  • Significant memory loss, which should not be ignored as “normal” forgetfulness, as it could be an indicator of dementia 
  • Changes in your mood, which can indicate depression, isolation and loneliness.  

Falls and Physical Strength 

Experiencing a fall is much more common in old age, and the consequences can significantly impact your quality of life. While muscle atrophy and weakness can occur as we age, our bodies should remain functional as long as we use and exercise them. “Exercise is important to maintain your quality of life and prevent loss—not just muscle loss, but the loss of physical mobility and independence,” says Dr. Reis.  

​​A lifelong commitment to moving or any type of exercise is ideal. For older adults unsure how to incorporate safe movement and exercise into their daily routine, ask your doctor about exercise regimens you can practice at home.  

Physical therapy is also a great way to build a safe exercise plan and develop a consistent exercise routine to maintain strength. It can be tremendously helpful for those experiencing difficulties with balance or walking or with falls. However, continuing to exercise after physical therapy is key to maintaining strength and function,” says Dr. Salzman. 

Maintaining Your Overall Health as You Age  

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with routine check-ups helps slow down the effects of aging. Here are three strategies you can use to keep your body healthy, ward off chronic disease and achieve healthy aging: 

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Regular exercise, a nutritious diet and avoiding caffeine and alcohol as we age goes a long way in keeping the body strong to prevent and recover from illness and injury. 
  • Build a strong social network: It is important to maintain and create strong personal connections as we age, as the risk of loneliness and isolation increases. Regular social interaction keeps you mentally sharp and can help prevent dementia or depression. 
  • Stay vigilant: Visit your doctor at least once a year so they can check your vision, hearing and blood pressure, conduct bloodwork and screen you for chronic disease. It’s also important to review your medications, since the risks and benefits of medications change as we get older. 

“It’s never too late to start making healthy changes,” adds Dr. Reis. “Exercise and nutrition make a great impact on how people age at any number, no matter when they start. Always look ahead and have a plan for your future.” 

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