Things anti-aging products can't hide

Nov 3, 2011 at 5:43 a.m. ET

Sure, your grandmother seems to be aging well -- but maybe that's exactly what she wants you to think. Rebecca A. Lorenz, RN, Ph.D., recently monitored women ages 60 to 80 to examine how they cope with -- and mask -- their signs of aging and physical limitations. Results showed that women were resourceful in covering signs of declining mobility, but this could potentially hide symptoms of serious health issues.

Sad senior woman looking out window

Why people mask signs of aging

Let's face it: No one wants to get old, so it isn't surprising that people might choose to hide signs of aging. Lorenz believes this is due to the negative stigma of being old in our society. "Ageism is common in America," she says. "One does not have to look too far to see the value that the media places on being young. Anti-aging products are advertised everywhere!" She adds that the belief among some in medical profession's belief that aging is a "disease" also promotes ageism. Viewing the aging process as something that needs close medical management creates a vision of old age as a time filled with illness and disabling conditions. It's no wonder that no one wants to admit their age in public.

The problem with hiding decline

By not owning up to certain signs of aging or hiding bodily decline, however, you run the risk of making problems worse or missing opportunities for early intervention, to prevent or delay whatever might be going on health-wise, explains Lorenz. She adds that the successful concealment of limitations also creates the illusion of rapid decline into disability once a catastrophic event such as a fall occurs. "This may reveal why health care providers fail to recognize a subgroup of functionally independent older adults who are struggling to maintain their independence. In fact, evidence indicates that they will remain undiscovered until an event such as a fall or hospitalization precipitates dependence."

Lorenz recommends that everyone caring for an aging parent or relative take the time to observe them during daily activities. She has found that observation is a much better method to identify difficulty than asking someone if they are struggling, because they may not be truthful in their answer. Some examples of what to watch for include: leaning on counters when cooking (sign of back pain), using shopping carts to lean on while shopping and letting you go first up and down stairs.

Coping with physical decline

Some physical decline is an inevitable part of getting older, but there are many ways to remain mobile and healthy if we take care of ourselves, Lorenz says. "My recommendation is that each of us needs to take care of our body though proper nutrition and participation in routine exercise." Staying active will help us avoid lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, not to mention help ensure we have greater physical strength and endurance. "Evidence suggests that exercise helps maintain cognitive and physical performance during aging," she says. "Instead of trying to hide our decline, we need to explore ways to help ourselves stay safe and active, such as swimming instead of walking or running." Depending on your ability, exercises should include aerobic activities such as walking, biking or swimming; and strength training exercises such as lifting weights or using Thera-Bands for resistance. Water exercises using equipment such as hand paddles can also provide resistance training.

Older adults should talk to their doctor before beginning an exercise program to ensure they choose an activity that best suits their ability.

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