DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am 56 and have noticed a few things are changing as I get older. I know as I age there will be more changes in my body and mind, but can you provide insights on what are some common things that I can expect?
ANSWER: Throughout life, your body is constantly changing, and there are some surprising changes that can occur within your body and mind. As you age, some of those changes become more obvious, like wrinkles or forgetfulness. Learning what to expect as you get older can help alleviate some anxiety with aging.
Below are some common questions from patients about aging:
I used to be 6 feet tall. Now I am 5 feet, 11 inches tall. Why am I shrinking?
When looking at height loss, some changes are normal, and some are not. You have 24 bones, or vertebrae, in your spine with discs in between each vertebra. These discs begin to lose strength and thin as you age. This thinning process causes you to start to shrink.
The bone remodeling process becomes more disordered after age 25. This causes you to break down your bones faster than you rebuild them.
You can help prevent bone breakdown to a substantial degree through weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, aerobics or resistance training, and through a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamins. Also, speak to your primary health care provider about appropriate screening for your risk of osteoporosis. Though screening recommendations differ, most organizations suggest screening universally at 65 for women and 75 for men. However, other risk factors, such as premature menopause, fractures and hormone deficiency, can warrant earlier testing.
I leak urine when I laugh. What can I do?
Urinary incontinence, or urinary leakage, is a common problem, especially for older women. This issue can result from many causes, including pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, overactive bladder muscles, weakened pelvic muscles and nerve damage. The right treatment will require a proper diagnosis. Making the right diagnosis will include a full history of symptoms; a physical exam; urine testing; and possibly more advanced studies, such as urodynamic testing, or ultrasound and X-ray imaging.
Treatments are helpful, and they include behavioral modifications, dietary changes, pelvic muscle strengthening, medications and surgery. Incontinence or voiding difficulties in men can be a sign of an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer. Generally, I would recommend talking with your health care provider about these symptoms.