Aging is a necessary part of life. In order to successfully prepare for the future, it is helpful to know what to expect. With the desire of most Americans to “age in place”, understanding the physical and cognitive changes associated with aging is important.
On average, U.S. adult population data suggests that there is a steady decline in most measures of physical function upon reaching the mid to late twenties. Studies show that there is an average of a 10% decline per decade in performance on aerobic activities such as biking, running, and hiking. This loss in performance increases to 15-30% past the age of 30.
Some expected symptoms of neurological decline with age entail the ability to generate force quickly which relates to the slowing of reaction time. With a slower reaction time, activities of daily living (ADL) may be jeopardized. These ADL’s may include the ability to lift heavy objects, climb stairs, catching oneself during a fall, and/or getting out of a chair. This also impact safe driving.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define cognitive decline as “a combination of mental processes that includes the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering.” Having impairments in cognitive function can have an effect on ADL’s as well. The causes associated with cognitive impairment are varied depending on a plethora of factors and/or diseases. Severe cognitive decline is associated with memory loss due to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. But often, experiencing a stroke or traumatic brain injury, depression, the side effects of medication, and infections, can also play a large role in cognitive decline. Individuals who suffer from cognitive impairment may have trouble with managing their ADL’s which may include medication and money management, and meal preparation.
Although these age related declines can be alarming, it is important to keep in mind that physical and cognitive decline is variable. Being aware of this information ahead of time can provide an opportunity for individuals to inform themselves and their families in order to better prepare for the future.
Cisneros, H., Chamberlain, M.D., Hickie, J., (2012). Independent for Life. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press