Aging With Gusto!

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

She woke up one morning, arose from her bed, looked in the mirror and said, “Who is that old lady looking back at me?”  Fran felt so young and alive, it was hard to believe she was 87 years old.  No one wants to think about getting old, getting sick or dying, but it is an inevitable part of life.  Without always realizing it, senses fade and the body simply doesn’t respond the way it used to.  When Fran was a young girl she loved running down the stairs to answer the door.  She bounced so quickly she often skipped a step or two.  Now at 87, she takes her steps cautiously, holding the handrail and always watching for obstacles that might accidently contribute to her tripping or taking a fall.

The United States Census Bureau projects the number of older Americans to more than double over the next 40 years.  Over time, there will be changes that we notice outwardly mirroring the changes from within.  What should we expect?  As one ages, your body doesn’t reproduce cells as well as when you were younger.  Eyesight tends to fade and the lenses of your eyes actually yellow.  Hearing becomes more difficult, especially when it comes to the high pitched voices of grandchildren.  Joints often feel “creaky” when you try to move them and some folks can even tell you when rain is in the air! While there are a number of differences that we notice externally, it is also important to recognize our bodies are changing from within.

Fran is Italian.  She has always prided herself in making the perfect baked ziti, the best meatballs and sauce on the planet.  As time marched on, Fran began to notice she couldn’t taste the food as well.  The recipes were the same but the food tasted different to her.  She began adding more spices and salt but that only caused her grandchildren to notice and begin complaining.  Fran wasn’t aware that taste is one of the senses that usually begins to change in your 60’s.  The additional salt wasn’t helping her blood pressure either and the added spices were upsetting her digestive system.   

Many people like Fran desire the scrumptious tastes and smells of yesteryear and don’t fully comprehend why they can’t smell foods (and other odors) as well as they used to or why the taste of the food becomes “just too bland”.  This fact alone could lead to extra calories and weight gain, and even unwittingly consuming foods that have already spoiled.  It could also cause a lack of appetite, resulting in a lack of receiving nutrients essential for the body to function properly.  To overcome this situation, older adults are encouraged to speak to their doctor about adding texture to foods that create ‘crunch’, increasing extracts, jams, butters and other flavorful foods to their recipes, and consciously taking a moment to smell foods before tasting.

“I’m not sweating and I don’t feel like drinking more water.”  Fran realized it was 90 degrees outside, 80 degrees inside and that hot days take their toll on the very elderly, but she didn’t realize it was taking a toll on her.  As you age the body has a more difficult time properly regulating its temperature.  Fran was not sweating and felt perfectly comfortable.  In reality she was actually becoming dehydrated.  Fran eventually became confused, disoriented and dizzy before her family realized what was happening.

As you age, expect some body organ shrinkage, a loss of body water percentage, changes in body composition, a loss of muscle mass (including muscles that affect vital organ functions), a slower metabolism and a loss of bone density that makes fractures a more likely occurrence.  There are plenty of things you can do now to slow or minimize some of these aging effects:  Good nutrition, multivitamins and staying active are key.  Also, socializing with friends, buying books with 12+ point font, minimizing noises, and painting walls different colors to distinguish boundaries are excellent things to do as well.  Other ideas are volunteering, strength training, exercise and more.  Aging with gusto actually takes a conscious effort.  For additional information, please call Franklin County Cooperative Extension at 919-496-3344.  ####

Rachel Harris Monteverdi is a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, a division of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University.  The Family & Consumer Sciences department includes prenatal to end-of-life programs.  Priorities for North Carolina citizens include:  Family & Parenting Education; Balancing Work & Family Workshops; Academic Success; Elder Care; Active Aging; Planning for the Future; Home Ownership & Housing Issues; Conservation & Environmental Issues; Leadership; Emergency Management and more.  Call 919-496-3344, email or visit for additional information.