Some believe that cartilage continues to grow until the day we "shuffle off this mortal coil." While bones undoubtedly stop growing after puberty, cartilage continues to grow sometime in adulthood. By the time cartilage stops growing the skin has started its aging process, which includes the breakdown of collagen and elastin (two factors that make youthful skin appear full and firm). Since cartilage is also made of collagen, it also starts to break down with age and meet with another of aging's dear friends: gravity. The slow degeneration of cartilage and the skin that holds it together, combined with the effects of gravity, gives the appearance of Grandpa's nose and ears continuing to grow. Gravity along with the body's natural aging process leads to a cornucopia of drooping in our elder years. From pendulous breasts to saggy scrotums to droopy eyelids and newfound jowls, our elder years reaffirm that gravity is here to stay.
Gravity is also the cause of large varicose veins and their smaller counterpart, spider veins. "Normal" veins work against the force of gravity. The heart pumps blood to the entire body and veins then carry the blood from the body back to the heart. The blood goes back to the heart from the lower body against the force of gravity. Over time the vein walls age and weaken. The pressure of gravity causes veins, especially those in the lower body working against gravity, to enlarge and bulge. In addition, veins have valves that act as one-way flaps that prevents blood from flowing backwards as it moves up its venous path. When the valves become weak, blood can leak back into the veins. An excess of backed-up blood makes the veins bigger and they can become varicose.
Spider veins appear similar to varicose veins but are smaller with short, jagged, and intricate lines (like a spiderweb). They are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. They can be found anywhere on the body but are especially common on the legs and face. Spider veins can be caused by the backup of blood, such as with varicose veins. They can also be caused by injuries, damaging sun exposure, and even hormone changes in women.
No, Grandpa's teeth aren't growing-but his gums are probably receding, giving him the appearance of elongated teeth. The sayings "long in the tooth" and "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" both stem from elderly gum recession. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" comes from judging the age of a horse based on its teeth. As with people, horses' gums recede with age and a common way to approximate age is to see if they are "long in the tooth," i.e. older. People's gums do naturally recede with age, but they also recede for several other reasons including improper brushing, inadequate flossing, bruxism (teeth grinding), and gum disease. By the time a person ages into their 80's they will undoubtedly have gum recession. A commonly regurgitated summation is that over 80% of octogenarians, and 90% of nonagenarians unfortunately have gum recession. However, the good news is this stat only applies if they have (most of) their own teeth-something to be extremely proud of!
Only a portion of the population, elderly and otherwise, is near sighted (and has trouble seeing things far away). When the eyes age they will almost always experience some degree of being far sighted, and have trouble reading things that are in close proximity. This is due to the science of the aging eye. Presbyopia is the process in which the lens of the eye gradually becomes rigid and inflexible over time. It is a predictable process starting around 40 years of age and it has a variety of other conditions associated with it. The aging eyes will need more light to be able to see clearly yet will have problems with lights and glare. Changes in the lenses of the eyes cause light entering the eye to be more scattered, rather than well-focused on the retinas as with younger eyes. The elderly often have changes in color perception. The normally clear lens inside the eyes may start to discolor and/or grow cloudy. This makes it harder to see and distinguish between certain colors and shades. Older eyes also have reduced tear production. Having an adequate amount of tears is essential for keeping eyes healthy, hydrated, and for maintaining clear sight. Yes, Grandpa will have an abundance of glasses for seemingly every occasion, and sometimes a pocketful of eye drops as well!
The good news is your Grandpa's life expectancy is fabulous; the bad news is, it's probably longer than your life expectancy! The Census Bureau gives us some interesting statistics. Baby Boomers can expect to live into their mid-eighties with one out of every four Boomers living past age ninety. Conversely, those being born into the current generation have a life expectancy just below eighty years of age. Unfortunately, the life expectancy of those in the United States is actually decreasing! Curious how actuaries crunch the numbers to predict longevity? Check out your longevity calculations.
Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.