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Health Characteristics of an Aging Population

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  • 0:01 Aging vs. Disease
  • 2:16 Functional Health
  • 4:01 Over 85
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

What does it mean to live to be 80 and to be able to take care of yourself? Is everything that happens to you just part of getting older? Or is getting sick a separate and horrifying issue?

Aging vs. Disease

I don't know how old you are, but have you ever sat and thought about how different you feel from when you were younger? Being young, you and I were so full of energy. But now that we have gotten older, the body isn't as active as it used to be. My body has slowed down some and will probably continue to slow down even more. In this lesson, we will first look at what is normal aging and what is disease, both acute and chronic. Following this, we will look into what functional health is, institutionalization, and what happens after the age of 85.

When we think about the aging process, we typically assume that as we get older, we get sicker. This kind of thinking discounts the actual aging process. What I mean is, when we age there is something known as primary aging, which is natural and progressive maturation. Our muscles become less strong due to wear and tear. Our bones become more brittle and are more likely to break with even moderate use. Our skin starts to wrinkle as well as dry out, and our organs don't work as well as we get older, resulting in more wear on the rest of the system. These are all natural parts of getting older.

In addition to the normal effects of aging, there is also secondary aging, which is environmental effects and disease. This is due to what is going on around us and could be considered atypical, as well as unique to the individual. For example, as we get older, we are more likely to get sick with colds and flus. These are acute diseases, defined as severe ailments with a sudden onset that typically run a short amount of time. These are the ones that hit you square on the nose and typically pass quickly. On the other hand is chronic disease, defined as a condition that develops more slowly and typically worsens over time. Here we have individuals who smoke and are more likely to have lung- and heart-related issues, those who do not exercise and are likely to have heart and cardiovascular issues, and those who drink poisonous byproducts of yeast and are more likely to have heart and gut issues.

Functional Health

Let's tell a quick story about Bob and Jane. The two of them are getting older and have some difficulty; however, Bob is much worse off than Jane. Jane continues to take care of herself, buying groceries, cooking, and doing all the stuff she needs to do. Bob, on the other hand, starts to slip here and there and has difficulty doing the necessary daily activities, like cleaning himself and feeding himself. When looking at Bob and Jane, we need to describe how they are doing.

One way we can describe a person is by their functional health, or the ability to perform all of one's activities of daily living. Activities of daily living are self-care activities, such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet, grooming, and feeding. Effectively, a person with functional health is able to bathe, dress themselves, and perform other minimal tasks. In our story, Bob had failing functional health due to not completing his activities of daily living. Jane had a robust functional health.

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