What Are the Signs of "Normal" Aging vs. “Abnormal” Aging?

What Are the Signs of "Normal" Aging vs. “Abnormal” Aging?

What Are the Signs of "Normal" Aging vs. “Abnormal” Aging?

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Greying and thinning hair. Reduced sight and reduced hearing. Bones becoming more brittle and joints becoming stiff and sore. Receding gums and loose teeth. These are all processes we consider a normal part of aging, and many seniors in Cincinnati deal with them every day. 

But what about abnormal aging? Are there warning signs that could show us when Mom or Dad's health isn't what it should be at their age?

There are. In fact, we have a guide all about positive aging for seniors. In it, you'll learn about the stages of aging, normal vs. abnormal aging, implications of aging on overall wellness, and strategies, tips and local resources for positive aging.

Below, we'd like to take a moment to discuss some of the warning signs of abnormal aging, so that you'll know what to look for...and when to intervene.


Signs that your older loved one might be having difficulty seeing include squinting while reading or asking others to read things out loud to him or her, slow driving, clumsiness, and trips and falls.

One of the most common sight-related problems in the elderly is the development of cataracts, which cloud the vision and can render an older person nearly blind. At first, a cataract isn't obvious, but left untreated it'll become apparent as a milky color over your elder's pupil.

The good new is that they're curable. Radial keratotomy and laser eye surgery can be used to drain the cataract's fluid. Other changes, though, like glaucoma or macular degeneration, aren't curable. They require ongoing, close monitoring by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor).

Glaucoma is an abnormal increase in the eyeball's internal fluid pressure. It's the leading cause of blindness in people 60 and older. If caught and treated early, though, blindness can be prevented.

Macular degeneration is another leading cause of age-related blindness, affecting an estimated 10 million Americans. It's caused by deterioration of the central part of the retina and causes a "hole" in a person's vision.

At present, macular degeneration is incurable, but it is treatable. And it's important for seniors to receive yearly eye exams to detect problems early.


Many seniors begin to experienced decreased sensitivity to hot and cold, or to touch. That's normal. But numbness isn't. And it can be a sign of a serious neurological problem.

Sudden loss of sensation in an extremity, or along one side of the body, could be indicative of a stroke. If your elder reports a sudden loss of sensation or quick-developing numbness, he or she should be seen immediately in the ER.

Numbness that comes on slowly and continues to worsen might also be an indication of a neurologic problem; it might be caused by a problem with one of the cushioning spinal discs in the neck or back, by a pinched nerve, or even by a growing tumor.

Diabetes is another potential cause of numbness — particularly in the hands and feet because it causes decreased blood circulation. If your older loved one consistently complains of worsening numbness in the extremities, he or she should be seen by the doctor.

Numbness can also be caused by an adverse medication reaction. Many American seniors take multiple medications, vitamins and/or supplements to treat chronic ailments; occasionally, these medications can react with each other in unintended ways. Sometimes, that can cause a medical emergency.

The good news is that, if identified early, medication reactions are often fully reversible by a change in medication or change in its dose.

Behavioral changes

Uncharacteristic behaviors and instances of severe mood swings could be a sign that your loved one is depressed. They could also be a warning sign that your elder is developing new-onset Alzheimer's or other dementia disorders.

In dementia cases, one of the most common things people notice is that the individual becomes easily tired in the afternoon and early evening, and that he or she exhibits behavioral outbursts. This is known as "sundowning."

Inappropriate behaviors — laughing at odd moments, sudden bursts into tears or hysterics, or irrational anger — can also be a sign that an older person might be developing dementia. If you notice these in your loved one, encourage him or her to schedule a doctor appointment.

Memory loss and confusion

The classic hallmark of Alzheimer's disease — or of dementia disorders in general — is, of course, profound memory loss.

Some memory loss is a normal part of aging — forgetting an anniversary, for example, or forgetting to meet for coffee with a friend, could easily be chalked up to momentary forgetfulness.

But if your elder has forgotten something profoundly personal and important, like his or her own address, your name or your birthday, or the year he or she graduated high school, there may be something more insidious afoot.

Watch for these warning signs...and others.

These are some of the most commonly reported signs of abnormal aging. But there are many, many more. Click here for an extensive checklist of signs that your senior loved one's health might not be optimal.

If you suspect your elder might be exhibiting some signs of failing health, you should encourage him or her to be seen by a family doctor or geriatrician right away. Nothing is gained by taking a "wait-and-see" approach, but early and decisive action could save your loved one's life.


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Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public re... Read More >

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