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Healthy ageing health centre

Are these normal symptoms of getting old?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The ageing process in humans

Grey hairs and wrinkles are tell-tale signs of getting older but as we age our bodies change in other ways too.

Ageing is a natural process that affects our cells and organs. It happens gradually throughout our lives. If you experience a sudden change it may be a red flag for a health condition that's nothing to do with getting old.

"About 25% of ageing is DNA related, the other 75% is down to environmental factors and unpredictable events. But you do have some degree of control over the ageing process. If you live well, you have less disease so decline isn't inevitable," explains Professor James Goodwin, chief scientist at Age UK.

So what's normal ageing and what may be a cause for concern?

Eyes and ageing

It's highly unusual to see a person in their 60s who doesn't need glasses or contact lenses. Your eyes may be one of the first sign of ageing. Between the ages of 40 to 50 you may find you need glasses to make out words close-up. It's called presbyopia and it's a perfectly normal part of the ageing process. It means your ability to focus on objects near to you reduces because of the hardening of the lens in your eye.

"Your eyes definitely change as you age. Most people will end up with reading glasses," says Dr Jonathan Hewitt, senior lecturer at Cardiff University and Chair of the British Geriatric Society in Wales.

Cataracts, which are regarded as an age-related condition, are common as you get into your 60s and beyond.

"Cataracts come with age but these are easily treatable," says Dr Hewitt. "They can be corrected with surgery to replace the lens."

Even though eyesight does get worse as you get older it's important to have regular eye tests as they may pick up more serious eye conditions like age related macular degeneration or glaucoma, which require treatment.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes you to lose your central vision but not peripheral vision. It's estimated that AMD affects around 1 in 10 people over 65 in the UK to some extent.
Eye tests may also pick up on other conditions not directly related to the eye, like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Ears and ageing

It may be a cliché - having to shout so that an older person can hear but there's a grain of truth in it. Hearing often gets worse with age.

It's usually down to a condition called presbyacusis, which is caused by wear and tear on the little hair cells of the inner ear.

It's estimated by Age UK that more than 40% of over 50s and nearly three-quarters of over 70s have some sort of hearing loss.

If hearing loss happens gradually in both ears it's probably down to age. If you experience sudden hearing loss or if it's just in one ear, get it checked out by your GP, especially if it's accompanied by pain or discharge from your ear.

"When you reach your sixth decade hearing may decline. It doesn't happen to everyone. If people around you notice a problem, go for a consultation," says Dr Hewitt.

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