Age-Associated Changes and Biology of Aging

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Condition: The changes that occur in all people as they get older are part of the process called normal biologic aging.    

Background: Biologic aging occurs in all humans regardless of their environmental or cultural differences. The normal process of aging causes progressive and cumulative changes in all systems of the body. These include changes in the muscles, bones, joints, nerves, and essentially all of the other organ systems. As a result, these changes can affect the quality of a person’s vision, hearing and their ability to carry out both physical and intellectual activities.  

Risk Factors: Even though aging occurs in humans as well as all other species, the reasons behind this process are not yet well understood. There are many theories for why this process may occur. It may be due to a progressive imbalance between damage to the many systems within the body and our own ability for self-repair. As we age our repair methods become less efficient and this leads to an accumulation of damage and to functional decline. Damage may be caused by many sources such as: genetic mutations, radiation, toxins, infection, poor diet, as well as many other types of exposures.

Rehab Management: Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians are especially well positioned and trained to play a vital role in the treatment of patients of all ages. PM&R physicians are distinguished from clinicians of other fields in that our treatment is primarily focused on function, and that we treat the whole person not just specific problem area or organs. Due to their fundamental knowledge regarding healthy aging they are able to recognize diseases of aging early, often before they become problematic to the patient. PM&R physicians focus on treatment, education and provide other adaptive strategies to support patients in meeting their functional goals. The importance of exercise cannot be understated, which is why our mission for advocating that “exercise is medicine” often leads to many positive effects such as: controlling blood pressure, optimizing oxygen consumption, slowing muscle and bone density loss, maintaining joint mobility and overall cognitive function. PM&R physicians have vast knowledge of exercise with specific type, duration, and intensity of exercise and can play a vital role in the treatment of diseases of aging. PM&R physicians can prescribe an individualized exercise plans which can potentially slow the effects of aging on the heart, lung, muscles and bone and overall optimize a person’s functioning.