What is Aging?
Aging is a summary term for a set of processes, which contribute to health deterioration and ultimately to death with the passage of time. The process of aging may be divided into 2 types, namely Primary & Secondary.
Primary aging is the slow and irreversible process of deterioration of one’s body that takes place throughout their lifetime or the accumulation of biochemical damage that leads to slow movements, fading vision, impaired hearing, reduced ability to adapt to stress, decreased resistance to infections, and so forth. Secondary aging processes result from disease and poor health practices (e.g. No exercise, smoking, excess fat and other forms of self-damage) and are often preventable, whether through lifestyle choice or modern medicine.
Why do we age?
Aging, is the impact of time on our bodies. Through our life, we are affected on multiple levels:
- Cellular Aging: Cells age based on the number of times they have replicated. Each time our cells copy themselves, the genetic material reduces until about 50 times later, it is no longer able to be copied accurately (because of the shortening of telomeres). The more the cells are exposed to damage, the more the cells need to replicate.
- Hormonal Aging: Hormones also play a big factor in aging, especially in children and adolescents. Hormone levels change through life, leading to various age-related changes.
- Accumulated Damage: Exposure to UV radiation from sunlight, eating habits, pollution and other toxins all take their toll on our bodies. Over time, these toxins can lead to tissue damage and the body cannot keep up with maintaining and repairing the cells, tissues and organs.
- Metabolic Aging: The cells continuously turn food into energy, which produces byproducts that may be harmful. This process of metabolizing and creating energy results in damage to our body over time.
Although there have been many researches that have studied specific treatments to slow aging in humans, there are a limited number of proven recommended treatments that will prolong life.
A healthy lifestyle is of paramount importance. Balanced diet with adequate calcium intake and regular exercise increase the lifespan along with quality of life. Exercising for at least one hour, 4 days per week with a combination of aerobics, resistance training, flexibility and agility exercises help to slow down the aging process. One should also avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Some common myths
Myth #1: We will all get demented when we get old.
Fact: While the prevalence of dementia increases with age, it is not an invariable component of ageing. Dementia affects 3 to 11 % of community dwelling adults above the age of 65, and may affect up to 50% of individuals above the age of 85.
Myth #2: Forgetfulness = Dementia
Fact: While it is common for all of us to have some degree of memory impairment as we get older, forgetfulness does not equate the presence of dementia. Forgetfulness can arise as a result of stress, sleep deprivation, mood disorders, medication side-effects and metabolic disorders.
Myth #3: My patient / relative has been getting forgetful and is having problems caring for himself. He must be getting demented.
Fact: Dementia is a process. Up to 10% of patients who fulfill the criteria for dementia may have reversible causes that are amenable to treatment. Dementia is usually a progressive disorder. Short term or sudden changes may be due to a host of other problems, and should be fully evaluated by appropriate personnel.
Myth #5: Dementia is a “death sentence” and nothing can be done.
Fact: Medications (choline-esterase inhibitors) have been shown to retard the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and may also have a role in retarding the progression of vascular dementia and Lewy body disease. Other medications may be given for managing behavioral disorders related to dementia. Depression is common in patients and can be treated. Simple non-pharmacological means of treatment are also important.
Myth #6: Nothing can be done to prevent the onset of dementia.
Fact: While there is much that we do not, as yet, understand about the causes of dementia, there are suggestions that control of vascular risk factors may lower the risk of developing this disorder. Healthy lifestyles and continued active mental stimulation and engagement in society may be helpful.
Care of the Older Person
About Our Doctor
Dr Sitoh Yih Yiow is a consultant geriatrician who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1991. He obtained his Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom in 1996 and was awarded a Higher Manpower Development Programme (HMDP) fellowship by the Ministry of Health... Read more about our doctor