A wizened mind is not the only change that accompanies old age. There are perceptible differences in skin, hair, posture and gait. Changes in the walking pattern are usually as evident as silver hair and wrinkled skin.
The skeleton is meant to act as a support for the body’s structure. Joints are the point of contact between bones of the body that allows smooth movement. Joints make the skeleton flexible for movement. The bones are cushioned by cartilage synovial membranes and fluid in a typical joint. The joint is further covered by muscles to impart force and strength to the body to move. Movement and coordination is guided by the brain’s directions but are put into effect by changes in the joint muscles. The changes in the bones, the muscles and thus the joints due to ageing bring about a difference in the posture and gait, creating weakness and slowing the movement.
Bone Changes in Old Age
The most significant change that comes with old age is the reduction in bone mass or density. This is more common in women after menopause as this causes loss of minerals and calcium from the bones.
Bones called Vertebrae compose the spine. Intervertebral disc is the gel like cushion present between the bones. With old age, this disc starts losing fluid and become thinner causing the trunk to become shorter. The vertebrae also lose some mineral resulting in thinning of the bones. All these changes cause the spinal chord to curve and compress. Other malformations like bone spurs due to old age and use of the spine may also take place on the vertebrae.
The arches of the foot loose their pronounced structure with old age resulting in a slight reduction in height.
The length of the long bones of the arms and the legs remain the same though they become brittle due to loss of mineral content. The shortened trunk causes the arms and the bones to appear longer in comparison to it.
The fluid surrounding the joints starts decreasing in old age. The joints stiffen and suffer from loss of flexibility causing the cartilage to rub together and erode. Calcification of joints is another common occurrence, that is, deposition of minerals in and around the joints, especially in the shoulder joints.
Degenerative changes also begin taking place in old age when hip and knee joints begin to lose cartilage. The finger joints also tend to lose cartilage and there may be a slight thickening of the finger bones. This may occur more in women and may be hereditary.
There are a few joints like the ankle on whom the affect of old age is minimal.
Old age means the beginning loss of muscle tissue, that is, Atrophy and subsequent reduction in the lean body mass. Usually genetics decides the rate and extent of muscle loss for each individual. The Atrophy starts in 20’s in men and 40’s in women.
Another old age related change is the deposition of lipofuscin (age related pigment) and fat in muscle tissues. Old age slows down the rate of replacement of muscle tissues and usually tough fibrous tissues replace muscles. This can be seen most evidently in hands, which in old age may look thin and bony.
The above mentioned changes in muscle tissues together with ageing of the nervous system lessen the muscle tone and its ability to contract. Old age stiffens the muscles which do not get their flexibility back even with exercise.
How to prevent bone changes with age
The best way to reduce the effect of age on bones, joints and muscles is to exercise regularly. Following a regular exercise plan can significantly help and make the bones stronger.
Always consult a health care provider before embarking on any exercise plan.
Taking a nutritious well balanced diet with right amounts of calcium and vitamin D is also essential. Post-menopausal women and men over 60 years should ensure consumption of 1,200-1,500 mg of Calcium and 400-8—international units of vitamin D daily.
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