Physical Changes in Later Life
Average age in many Western countries is currently rising at a steady pace. In the United States, for example, the proposition of the population sixty-five or older has risen from about 4 or 5 percent in 1900 to about 12 or 13 percent now; and this figure will increase to almost 20 percent when the baby – boom generation born during the 1950’s and 1960’s turns sixty five. Similar trends are occurring in many other developed countries. These trends make it particularly important to understand physical changes during the later decades of life.
Stereotypes suggesting that people in their sixties, seventies, and eighties are generally frail, in poor health, and unable to take care of themselves turn out to be largely false. In the United States a very large proportion of people in these age groups report good or excellent health. And these age groups report good or excellent health. And these are not overoptimistic self-reports. It appears that most people below the age of eighty are in reasonably good health and are not much more likely than middle-aged people to suffer from chronic illness- ones that are long term, progressive, and incurable. Further, even in their seventies and eighties a large majority of people do not receive hospital care during any given year. In short, the picture of older persons that emerges, at least in developed countries such as the United States, is quite encouraging.
One additional point should not be overlooked: While many physical changes do occur with increasing age, it is crucial to distinguish between those that are the results of primary aging-changes caused by the passage of time and, perhaps, genetic factors- and those that result from secondary aging- changes due to disease, disuse, or abuse of our bodies.
Many of these changes have important implications for everyday activities. Accident rates are high among young drivers- perhaps because of a youth-related tendency towards recklessness- and then fall to much lower levels through much of adult life. However, accident rates rise sharply again above the age of seventy-five or eighty. Hearing, too, decreases with age. By age fifty many people can notice slightly reduced ability to hear high- frequency sounds. Such changes may now be occurring at even earlier ages, because of increased exposure to very loud sounds. By the time they are in their sixties or seventies, many people experience some difficulty in understanding others’ speech especially if it is rapid or occurs against background noise. Indeed, older people have a decreased ability to block out background noise. Indeed, older people have a decreased ability to block out background noise- to detect signal against noise.