It is often thought that aging means a collection of illnesses knocking at your door, a certainty of multiple prescriptions, and those little pill organizers to help you remember if you have taken your daily dose.
However, should we also be looking at aging itself as a “treatable” if not a preventable condition? If we could, it may reduce the risk of receiving these diagnoses or, at the very least, increase the age at which they are more likely to occur.
For example, the risk of heart disease increased markedly at 45 years of age for men and 55 years of age for women. What if we could extend heart health for another ten years and lower disease incidence? What are some other diseases influenced by our age?
Arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that can come in different forms. Psoriatic arthritis is common among individuals with the inflammatory skin condition psoriasis, in which the inflammation is present in the connective tissue of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own bone and cartilage connective tissue as an overactive response.
Osteoarthritis, however, is a condition largely influenced by age.
Our joints– our knees, hips, elbows, and fingers — are protected by synovial fluid and cushioning cartilage tissue. These elements prevent our bones from wear and tear from rubbing against one another.
Over time, as we get older, these protective tissues degenerate or are broken down faster than they are restored. As a result, the bones and surrounding joint tissues become red and swollen, leading to symptoms like discomfort and stiffness.
The term cardiovascular disease encompasses a long list of different contributing conditions. It is an umbrella term relating to things like hypertension, heart failure, and coronary artery disease, all of which are influenced by age and may be more prominent in older adults.
Hypertension is just a fancy name for chronic high blood pressure. This may be caused by continuous stress that can be influenced by the increased stressors that occur as we age.
Our blood vessels also contribute to the state of our blood pressure by their elastic properties. They must expand and contract to accommodate the changing blood pressure needs of our body.
Our blood pressure naturally decreases when we stand up, so our blood vessels must tighten to compensate. However, as we age, our blood vessels and the rest of our tissue lose their elasticity and become stiffer.
Therefore, they cannot expand and accommodate, so the pressure within our blood vessels increases. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle may reduce the risk of hypertension.
Similar to our blood vessels, our hearts also lose elasticity as we age. The heart is one large muscle that works as a pump to push blood out to our bodies’ extremities and vital organs.
As we age, our hearts’ muscle cells lose their elasticity, and it becomes similar to a stretched-out rubber band. In this case, the heart is unable to contract effectively, and blood is not adequately pumped out to where it needs to go.
This is called heart failure as it can cause blood and associated fluids to pool up in the extremities and even the lungs, depending on which side of the heart is compromised, leading to other health problems.
Coronary Artery Disease
The most common form of cardiovascular disease is CAD. The coronary artery is the blood vessel that delivers oxygenated blood to the heart itself. Individuals with CAD have a buildup of plaque within this artery, preventing adequate oxygen from getting to the heart, also called ischemia.
Without this oxygen, the heart is not able to pump effectively, and individuals with this condition often experience chest pain associated with exertion. The plaque build-up is often caused by an accumulation of fatty deposits and cholesterol. This may be influenced by our diet or when our bodies metabolize what we eat more slowly as we age, causing higher deposits of fats.
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which the cells in our brain pathways begin to deteriorate, and modified proteins accumulate in the brain.
While the exact cause of this disease is unknown, there is a pretty prominent correlation between Alzheimer’s and age and genetic factors. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, and early signs often begin with gradual forgetfulness of short-term events.
Memory aids such as sticky notes or voice memos are often used. Over time, memory declines more rapidly and becomes more long-term. Additionally, mood changes and irritability may occur.
While some medications have been developed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, there are no known medical treatments that can reverse the degeneration that has already taken place.
Osteoporosis is a bone disorder that occurs most commonly among the aging populations, especially post-menopausal women. Additionally, aging individuals who take multiple medications may also be at a higher risk because some interactions cause poor calcium absorption.
This can cause the bone to be very brittle and easily broken, most commonly wrists, knees, and hips. Bone density screenings can be done to determine whether or not an individual is at risk for osteoporosis.
Additionally, isometric weight-bearing exercises that increase muscle mass can help prevent bone fractures along with walking, swimming, and dancing.
Preventing trips and falls by removing or securing the edges of rugs and other clutter inside the living space can also prevent bone fractures. Ensure a diet high in calcium and Vitamin D, as Vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium.
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, affects the macula attached to the retina and perceives light. It can cause central vision loss in the form of blurriness or complete blindness. This can make everyday activities like driving, reading, and even recognizing people’s faces.
There are two kinds of macular degeneration: wet and dry.
Wet MD is less common and can be more damaging. It is caused by leakage of blood vessels behind the retina. Dry MD is more common and leads to a slower onset of vision loss. The deterioration of the retina itself causes this form. Aging is the most prevalent risk factor for this disease, and the age of onset is typically after 40 years old.
Cataracts are another eye disorder that is more common in older adults.
Aging as a Disease
We often see aging and senescent cells as a part of life that naturally concludes our time on earth, but what if that did not have to be the case? Aging may not be untreatable.
Genetic research indicates that manipulation of the SIRT6 gene may enable us to slow the aging process entirely. Hopes for the near future are to secure an additional 50 years of life to human expectancy.
Genflow Biosciences works hard to research such possibilities to add longer and healthier years to our lives. After all, the quality of life is what makes life worth living.