Why is ageing a health concern?
Aging is a health concern at both individual and societal levels. As an individual ages, the risk factors increase for a huge variety of health conditions, many of which may require hospitalisation, and could be fatal. In industrialised nations, up to 90% of all deaths are the result of age-related causes.
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Almost all organ systems deteriorate with age, but the most common health complaints in the elderly are impaired cardiovascular function, reduced lung capacity or efficiency, and weaker bones and joint pain such as that caused by arthritis. The decrease in bone density and strength is unfortunate when combined with the deterioration of balance also common in old age. Falls among the elderly are common and can be quite serious.
Recovery from illness or injury also tends to be more difficult in the elderly. Immunosenescence, or the decline in efficiency of the immune system, is observed in most mammal species, and explains why the elderly are ill more frequently than the young, and why they can be made very ill by infections generally not considered serious. Their recovery from injury is also slower, as they have fewer stem cells left available to replace damaged tissues. The result is that the elderly are more frequently unwell, and remain unwell for longer.
Some degree of mental deterioration is also expected with aging, which can include memory loss and problems with language, such as losing words. There are also several forms of dementia, more serious deterioration of memory and thought processes, which are also associated with age and affect almost half of those over 85.
On a societal level, aging is also a health concern as the elderly often require care, in either hospital settings, at home, or in nursing homes. These require the time and attention of trained people, and can put strain on healthcare resources. This strain is only set to increase, as a gradual decrease in the birth rate, coupled with an increase in life expectancy, is causing an aging population in most industrialised countries.
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