Growing Old in Three Minutes

Click the images below to see how the mind and body change over time.

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Produced by Sherisse Pham and Scott Sell

Aging means not only the passage of time, but intensifying physical change.

Vision is especially vulnerable to age. Cataract, the most common eye disease amongst elderly Americans, affects almost 70 percent of those over 80. It clouds the lens, blocking light to the retina; the result is blurred vision. But cataract surgery is over 99 percent successful, says Nancy Miller, chairman of Visions, a nonprofit organization.

There is no treatment, however, for age-related macular degeneration, the second most prevalent eye disease amongst the elderly, afflicting more than 35 percent of Americans over 80. People with this disorder gradually lose the ability to recognize faces, to drive or to read, says Marco Zarbin, ophthalmologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Glaucoma attacks peripheral vision; open-angle, the most common form, affects roughly 11 percent of people over 70. Perhaps most devastating is diabetic retinopathy, whose prevalence has risen with America’s high obesity and diabetes rates. More than 10 percent of diabetics over 65 develop this disease. Controlling blood sugar can slow the onset and progression of diabetic retinopathy, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check can reduce the risk of vision loss.

Hearing loss also correlates strongly with age. Tinnitus, commonly caused by noise damage, affects roughly 13 percent of Americans over 65. Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) affects about half of those over 75. Hearing loss represents more than a physical disability. “The importance of hearing in our daily existence, our quality of life and our social interactions and how we interact with the world, is just so vital,” says Anil Lalwani, an otolaryngologist at New York University. Hearing aids and cochlear implants — surgically implanted hearing aids — can help improve hearing and communication.

Age-related decline in motor functioning poses significant danger to older adults. Gradual changes throughout the body create deficits, particularly in sensory and muscle function. As people age, their gait, balance and posture deteriorate, contributing to falls. A recent University of Washington study found that those who fell once in a year reported a $2,000 rise in annual health care costs, compared to costs for older adults who did not fall. Among those reporting several falls, costs rose by $5,600.

Certain aspects of cognition — the umbrella term for thinking, learning and remembering — decline with age. Short-term and episodic memory loss (“where are my car keys?”) are especially troublesome for the elderly. And although old people can absorb new information and master new tasks, the speed of learning decreases. A mental status test, like that depicted in the video above, helps assess the extent of cognitive decline.

Using academic and government research on the physiology of aging, we’ve produced four experiential videos showing how and why the mind and body change over time.


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