The current term paper provides explanation of aging and aging-related effects on psychological and physiological health. Particular attention is paid to evaluation of social, biological, emotional and physical dimensions of the aging process. Different theories and studies form overview of aging and its negative effects on human health and life. Additionally, several recommendations to healthy aging, which are based on studied information, are provided below. Aging is considered to be an irreversible process with extensive negative effect on cognitive performance that can be mitigated by active life position, body exercises, positive interactions and other factors.
The current term paper is based on numerous studies and researches of aging, its background and consequences. Ian Hamilton (2012) provides explanation of aging and its main aspects. Bherer, Erickson, and Liu-Ambrose (2013) explains influence of physical exercises on cognitive functioning. Susan Charles and Laura Carstensen (2010) discuss the effect of specific processes and strategies on aging-connected consequences. Jin Kunlin (2010) analyses numerous biological theories which explain negative effects of aging on human body.
Current work is based on critical analyses of researches and studies of aging. The studies were conducted by different researches in various locations. Collected information was thoroughly checked to minimize the possibility of obtaining irrelevant outcomes. Biological, physiological and psychological aspects of aging are the key aspects of the current research. All the information is taken from the relevant sources.
Analysis and Discussion
Part I - Intro to the Psychology of Aging
Nowadays, aging or graying a population is a commonplace experience in many countries all over the world due to decreasing of child death and prolongation of lives. However, the mean income and socioeconomic development create the background for the great difference between life expectancy in different countries and regions. For example, low developed countries have a life expectancy of 55 years, when industrialized countries have an expectancy level of 77 years.
Aging can be defined as the result of the progressive accumulation of changes in the body which occur the passing of time and which cause the increase in the probability of diseases and death of the individual. The process takes place in all individuals progressively through the life span. Aging has considerable negative impact on the human organism reflected in losses of capacity of maintenance of homeostasis. Moreover, it causes deterioration of the force and elasticity of the skeleton muscular system, lowering cognitive functions, losses of working memory, vision, hearing, motor co-ordination, personal inhibition changes in white matter integrity, etc. Hence, aging influences personal ability to perform different cognitive tasks connected with numerous mental and perceptual actions and processes. Reduced inhibition of older people increases their confusion by irrelevant data and challenges learning of new information. Declining of episodic memory is based on “poor encoding strategies, less use of environmental support, and deficits in binding new information with existing knowledge during encoding” (Bherer, 2013). The changes are connected with human environment, lifestyle factors, socioeconomic status, psychological and physical condition and etc.
Part II - Theories of Aging
Currently, there are more than 300 different aging theories and their number is increasing because people use innovation technologies and ideas for understanding and explanation of the aging phenomenon. Some of the theorists tried to explain biological process and physiologic changes in human organism caused by genetic errors, somatic mutations and certain program of aging. According to the error theory, numerous genetic faults lead to the decrease of performance of certain functions; thus, aging occurs in the human body during the life span. Wear and tear theory states that parts of the body eventually wear out from repeated use, killing them and then the body. The rate of living theory shows that human life span has an inverse dependence on the rate of metabolism. Johan Bjorksten in his cross-linking theory proclaims that the process of aging is based on generation of cross-linked proteins which cause damage to cells. According to the free radical theory, the negative consequences of aging are caused by free radicals derived from oxygen. Reactive oxygen species, which are produced in the mitochondria transport chain, lead to a chronic oxygen stress connected with the process of aging. Richard Cutler connected personal lifespan with several antioxidants (uric acid, vitamin E, superoxide dismutase), which can be generated in a cell. Somatic mutation theory explains aging as the consequence of damage to DNA and the genetic integrity of the cells caused by mutations in human organism. Kunlin Jin (2010) stated the following: “genetic mutations occur and accumulate with increasing age, causing cells to deteriorate and malfunction”.
One more theory is programing of aging theory. It can be divided into three sub-theories: programmed longevity, endocrine theory and immunological theory. Programmed longevity explains aging as the process of switching certain genes that caused age-associated negative effects. Endocrine theory states that the process of aging is controlled by the organism through the means of hormones, for example insulin. Immunological theory considers that the immune system is programmed to decline over time, which leads to an increased vulnerability to infectious disease and thus aging and death.
The psychosocial theories of aging describe behaviors and process of thinking of aging individuals. The frameworks are the following: disengagement theory, activity theory and continuity theory. The first model considers aging as the process of retiring of older people from social events and welfare activities due to their inability to perform their work effectively and promptly. Aging is considered to be beneficial to both older and younger generations because older people transfer their power and experience and do not represent burden to the society. According to the second theory, a personal life satisfaction is closely connected with individual activity and a positive self-concept. Older people with active way of living (for example, maintenance of family and community roles) and communication with others can adjust personal retirement. The third theory establishes that a person does not considerably change his values, traditions, beliefs, preferences and behaviors through the life span. Usually, older people use familiar strategies in situations because they have certain life experience and observed outcomes of their past actions. Moreover, the individual characteristics become even more entrenched. They form the background of further behavioral changes. Therefore, the aforementioned theories provide explanations of social and physical factors which influence human cognitive functions during aging.
Part III - The Physical Dimension
Louis Bherer (2013) in his work A Review of the Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Cognitive and Brain Functions in Older Adults provides description and analysis of numerous scientific studies, which support the notion that physical activities can alleviate the negative consequences of aging mentioned above. According to his investigations, the rate of cognitive functioning decline depends greatly on “a socially integrated network, cognitive leisure activity, and regular physical activity” (Bherer et al., 2013). Physical activity is represented by the use of skeleton muscles and different body movements. Regular performance of different body exercises lowers rates of incidence and personal prevalence to chronic diseases. Additionally, the activities have considerable impact on prevalence and the extent of age-related cognitive decline. Cross-sectional studies showed that fit older people have lower rate of age-related challenges and more efficient mental functions in cognitive performance than sedentary people. Longitudinal studies supported the idea by the following findings: older people who performed body exercises have lower cognitive decline over 2-10 follow-up periods. Thus, the positive effect concerns personal working memory, processing speed, attention, and general mental functioning. Moreover, people who are randomly engaged in physical activities have better attention, executive function, short-term and long-term memory and processing speed. Also, the increase of gait speed has a positive effect of conflict resolution and selective attention.
Positive impact of physical activities on neurocognitive functions is connected with direct and indirect biological effects. Direct biological effects are seen on supramolecular, molecular and structural levels. Different scientific investigations show that a higher cardiorespiratory fitness level was associated with a reduced loss of grey and white matter in the frontal, prefrontal, and temporal regions in older adults. Moreover, body exercises are connected with larger hippocampi and higher level of the spatial memory performance and task-relevant activity, greater attentional control due to changes in large-scale brain networks and better response inhibition process. On the contrary, indirect effects are represented by improvement of health conditions, such as better sleep and reduction of stresses, depression and anxiety, and reduction of prevalence of chronic diseases.
Part IV - The Cognitive Dimension
Aging has a considerable negative effect on cognitive functions and causes declines in mental activities. Age-related cognitive declines are represented by difficulties with paying attention to relevant information and remembering, changes in sensory perceptions, changes in inhibitory ability, and changes in speed of processing. Aging processes leads to lowering of human sensation reflected in deficits in hearing and vison, particularly in lowering ability to discriminate luminance and colors. Deficit in hearing can cause slower performing of tasks which require auditory processing. Moreover, It can result in lower memorization of auditory data. Some of age-related cognitive difficulties are connected with personal inability to focus attention on relevant information. It is supported by the studies that evaluated the necessity of ignoring the previous relevant information and focusing their attention on new data. Hence, old people store task-irrelevant information, reducing the storage capacity available for task-relevant information. Slower speed of processing can be reflected in increasing the time of mental operations, poorer encoding of the information, longer reaction time and duration of performance of different tasks.
Often older people suffer from word-finding difficulties and transmission deficits caused by aging. Word-finding problems are reflected in excessive use of pronouns, decreased accuracy and increased reaction time when asked to name items, and increased tip of the tongue experience. The problems are caused by weakening of links which connect one unit with others in the memory system. Also, older people suffer from declining of memory connected with the previously encountered information and the contextual details caused by deficit in encoding. Finally, multiplying of details of certain event is a difficult task for them due to difficulties reflected in item-item and item-context associations.
Part V - The Emotional Dimension
Both positive and negative emotions have a considerable effect on physiological and physical health of adults. It is notable that physical and psychological condition of older people depends on the factors of strong support, control over life events, and severity of stresses. The process of aging is reflected in more predictable personal reaction on different life events, decreasing amount of negative emotions, increasing of investments in meaningful relationships with others, and lowering regulation of physiological functions.
People with strong social networks and family support have broader purposes and values in their lives. Positive and emotionally meaningful emotions obtained during social interactions improve cognitive functioning. The community-involved people are less likely to suffer from cognitive declines reflected in lower prevalence of dementia, and decreased performance of cognitive tasks. It is notable that the age-related decrease in social networks is usually connected with reduction of casual and less meaningful acquaintances and formation of stable relations with others. Aging of older people is related with increasing of awareness of “personal gains and losses, because social, cognitive, and functional reserves are often diminished with age, resources are carefully allocated”. Hence, older people usually select easily obtained goals and either direct their actions to obtaining them or ask for help of other people. Consequently, improved well-being of older people can be connected with better optimization and selection of life goals. Finally, the elderly more often direct their actions on reaching goals which can bring more benefits in the long-term perspective.
Part VI - Recommendations for Healthy Aging
Successful aging depends on physical and psychological conditions, environment, and underlying risk to different health and mental diseases. The attention should be paid to different physical activities directed on the improvement of health. It is notable that even unstructured body exercises have a considerable positive effect on cognitive performance. Moreover, a person should support interactions with other individuals, which bring positive emotions into his or her life and decrease stresses. The involvement with nearest and dearest and the ability to control and provide timely response to different life events are also crucial factors because they have a substantial influence on psychological stability.
Usually the aging people are obliged to cease performance of common actions and lose their social positions. Thus, the aging-related negative consequences reflect in lowering of ability to perform some tasks on effective and efficient level. However, they still can be successfully engaged in other activities which improve their self-awareness.
Current work provides description of aging. The attention is paid to social, physical, biological and psychological factors which from the background of the process. Different theories of biological and psychological concepts of aging provide an explanation of age-related consequences. The changes are reflected in problems with sensation, attention, language, memory and sharpening of habits formed during personal life span. Physical, cognitive and emotional dimensions show the reflection of the aging phenomenon in behavior, visions and actions of older people. Studied information helped to provide different recommendations for healthy aging. The major recommendations are reflected in increasing physical activities and positive social interaction of people for decreasing disturbance of cognitive functioning.