agEing takes its toll

Looked in the mirror lately and found a few more wrinkles and grey hairs? These are just two of the changes as you get older, but what is going on with your body?

Looked in the mirror lately and found a few more wrinkles and grey hairs? These are just two of the changes as you get older, but what is going on with your body?

Time takes a toll on the body's organs and systems. How and when this occurs is unique to each person. Typical changes to expect as one ages:

Cardiovascular system

Over time, the heart becomes a less-efficient pump, working harder to pump the same amount of blood through the body. Also, blood vessels become less elastic. Hardened, fatty deposits may form on the walls of the arteries (atherosclerosis), narrowing the passage through the vessels. The natural loss of elasticity, in combination with atherosclerosis, make arteries stiffer, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood through them. This can lead to high blood pressure.

Bones, muscles and joints

With age, bones shrink in size and density. One consequence is that you might become shorter. Gradual loss of density weakens bones and make them more susceptible to fracture. Muscles, tendons and joints generally lose strength and flexibility.

Digestive system

Swallowing and the motions that automatically move digested food through the intestines slow down. The amount of surface area within intestines diminishes slightly. The flow of secretions from the stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine may decrease. These changes don't disrupt the digestive process, so you may not notice them. But you might notice more constipation.

Kidneys, bladder and urinary tract

Kidneys become less efficient in removing waste from the bloodstream. Diabetes or high blood pressure, and some medications can damage kidneys further.

About 30percent of people over 65 experience a loss of bladder control (incontinence). It can be caused by obesity, frequent constipation and chronic cough. Women are more likely to have incontinence. Women might also experience stress incontinence as the muscles around the opening of the bladder lose strength, and bladder reflexes change. As estrogen levels decline, the tissue lining the tube through which urine passes becomes thinner. Pelvic muscles become weaker, reducing bladder support. In older men, incontinence is sometimes caused by an enlarged prostate.

Brain and nervous system

The number of cells (neurons) in the brain decreases with age, and memory becomes less efficient. But in some areas of the brain, the number of connections between cells increases, perhaps helping to compensate for the aging neurons and maintain brain function. Reflexes become slower and you become less coordinated.


Eyes are less able to produce tears, retinas thin and lenses gradually turn yellow and become less clear. The coloured portions of the eyes (irises) stiffen, making pupils less responsive. Other changes to lenses make you sensitive to glare, which presents a problem when driving at night. Cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration are the most common problems of aging eyes.


Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting middle-aged and older people. One in three people over 60 and half of all people over 85 have significant hearing loss.


How teeth and gums respond to age depends on how well you've cared for them over the years. Older mouths feel drier and gums recede. Teeth may darken, become brittle and break easily.

Skin, nails and hair

Skin thins and becomes less elastic and more fragile. You bruise more easily. Decreased production of natural oils may make skin drier and more wrinkled. Age spots can occur and skin tags are common. Nails grow at about half the pace they once did. Hair greys and thins. You perspire less, making it harder to stay cool in hot weather and putting you at increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The most significant factor in skin aging is sun exposure over the years. Smoking brings on wrinkles faster.


You sleep less soundly, meaning you need to spend more time in bed to get the same amount of sleep.


Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight may be more difficult.


Sexual needs, patterns and performance change. Vaginas tend to shrink and narrow and the walls become less elastic. Dryness is a problem. Impotence is more common as men age.