When Aging Becomes a Challenge

When Aging Becomes a Challenge

They are supposed to be your golden years. Your work is done, your finances are in order, and now you can enjoy your life. However, for many people, reaching retirement age brings many new physical and psychological issues.

In a paper published in June in the journal Aging, scientists from the institute’s Medical Informatics and Systems Division found that spontaneous mutations occur in our bodies constantly, but the rate of change differed dramatically among various people.

These changes are often associated with diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease, and are linked to exposure to various environmental stressors (Bavarva et al., 2014).

“We observed that certain portions of our genome age 100 times faster than others. Microsatellites, once considered ‘junk DNA,’ are known to be associated with many diseases. They change much faster than individual DNA bases (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs), so it is important that future studies look at this very dynamic part of the human genome,” explains Harold Garner, a professor of biological sciences and computer science at Virginia Tech and a professor of medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute (Garner, 2014).

Things are not as simple as we once thought, and aging doesn’t seem to follow any sort of predictable pattern. Nor are the changes simply physical.

According to a longitudinal study of men and women ranging in age from 25 to 104, self-esteem rises steadily as people age but starts declining around the time of retirement.

Self-esteem, which is related to better health, less criminal behavior, lower levels of depression and, overall, greater success in life was found to be lowest among young adults but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline (Orth et al., 2016).

Further, on average, women had lower self-esteem than did men throughout most of adulthood, but self-esteem levels converged as men and women reached their 80s and 90s. Blacks and whites had similar self-esteem levels throughout young adulthood and middle age. In old age, average self-esteem among blacks dropped much more sharply than self-esteem among whites – even after controlling for differences in income and health (Orth et al., 2016).

Even more interesting was the finding that people of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tend to have higher self-esteem, however, despite maintaining higher self-esteem throughout their lives, people in happy relationships experienced the same drop in self-esteem during old age as people in unhappy relationships. Explains Kali H. Trzesniewski, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario, “Although they enter old age with higher self-esteem and continue to have higher self-esteem as they age, they decline in self-esteem to the same extent as people in unhappy relationships” (Trzesniewski, 2016).

While there are numerous theories as to why self-esteem peaks in middle age and then drops after retirement, such as a change in roles, an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health, not one theory accurately explains the decline. However, through understanding the common physical and psychological challenges that the aging population faces, professionals who treat them can help ensure the highest levels of functioning, and a well-earned retirement.

Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Aging: Challenges for CliniciansAging: Challenges for Clinicians is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that provides a review of the aging process, illustrating potential challenges and effective solutions. Americans are living longer and there are proportionately more older adults than in previous generations due to the post-World War II baby boom. Many Americans are now living into their eighties and beyond. In healthcare, the volume of older people may soon outnumber the supply of healthcare professionals trained in geriatrics. Aging presents many challenges for people as they encounter new physical and psychosocial issues. It is vital for healthcare professionals to be familiar with the challenges of aging in order to effectively treat the aging population. This course will provide information on the normal process of aging, and point out problems commonly thought to be normal that require medical or psychological evaluation and treatment. Case examples will illustrate scenarios of aging persons who may be at risk but are not aware there is a problem. Use this information for referral as appropriate to ensure the highest level of functioning for your patients. Course #31-01 | 2017 | 54 pages | 20 posttest questions

Biology of AgingBiology of Aging: Research Today for a Healthier Tomorrow is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that reviews the research on aging and provides insight into where the science is heading. What is aging? Can we live long and live well—and are they the same thing? Is aging in our genes? How does our metabolism relate to aging? Can your immune system still defend you as you age? Since the National Institute on Aging was established in 1974, scientists asking just such questions have learned a great deal about the processes associated with the biology of aging. Technology today supports research that years ago would have seemed possible only in a science fiction novel. This course introduces some key areas of research into the biology of aging. Each area is a part of a larger field of scientific inquiry. You can look at each topic individually, or you can step back to see how they fit together, interwoven to help us better understand aging processes. Research on aging is dynamic, constantly evolving based on new discoveries, and so this course also looks ahead to the future, as today’s research provides the strongest hints of things to come. Closeout course #20-85 | 2012 | 30 pages | 15 posttest questions

Alzheimer’s - Unraveling the MysteryAlzheimer’s – Unraveling the Mystery is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that describes the risk factors, effective steps for prevention, strategies for diagnosing and treating, and the search for new treatments for AD. Alzheimer’s dementia is a growing concern among the aging Baby Boomers; yet, modern science points the way to reducing the risks through maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This course is based on a publication from the National Institute on Aging, which describes healthy brain functioning during the aging process and then contrasts it to the processes of Alzheimer’s disease. Strategies for reducing caregiver stress are also briefly discussed. Closeout Course #30-54 | 2008 | 45 pages | 21 posttest questions

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