Age Related Changes

Several conditions compromise independence and quality of life as one gets older. These changes include:
Declining Vision

It comes as no surprise to anyone over 40 that people’s visual facilities decline with age. As the eyes undergo normal ageing changes, one can expect decrease in sharpness of vision and focusing power.  As the lens of the eyes become less flexible, it is less able to focus. Reading fine print or seeing close objects becomes harder.

Ability to see differences in colours decreases as the lens of the eye yellows with age and filters out colors at the blue end of the light spectrum, making it harder to see the difference between shades of blue, green and violet.

The eyes’ pupils become less able to take in light and less able to adapt to changes in light. The ability to judge distance will decrease and there will be an increased need for light to see well.

As the lens thickens, there is an increase in the scattering of light passing through the lens and in the intraocular fluids. The reduced pupillary diameter response and the increased intraocular scattering of light combine increase one’s sensitivity to glare.

Hearing Impairment
Hearing loss affects approximately one-third of people over age 65. Age-related hearing loss usually occurs gradually and affects both ears equally. Age-related hearing loss tends to run in families, but the cumulative effect of loud noise can harm hearing too. Some people with age related hearing loss find loud noises and sound especially annoying. It also can be accompanied by ringing or buzzing in the ears.

Bone, Muscle, Joint, and Movement Disorders

Osteoporosis (loss of mass and quality of bones), osteoarthritis (inflammation and deterioration of joints), and sarcopenia (age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength) contribute to frailty and injury in many older adults.

Also contributing to loss of mobility and independence are changes in the central nervous system that control movement. Cells may die or become dysfunctional with age, as in Parkinson's disease. Therefore, older people may have difficulty with gross motor behavior, such as moving around in the environment, or with fine motor skills.

Changes in Mental Processes

Cognitive changes, which are linked to mental processes such as sensation and perception, memory, intelligence, language, thought, and problem-solving, occur among ageing adults. It may take an older person more time to encode, store, and retrieve information. The rate at which new information is learned can be slower and a repetition of new information is much needed for retention among the older adults. Long-term memory shows substantial changes with age, while short-term memory shows less age-related decline.

Despite all these changes, daily occupational and social functioning among those over age 65 is not impaired. Most language related skills also tend to remain stable with age. Most notably, creativity and wisdom continue at strong levels.

In summary, the normal ageing process has its effects on the senses of smell, sight, touch, and hearing, as well as on balance, physical strength, dexterity, and cognitive skills. All these changes can play a substantial role in limiting a person’s physical independence within a built environment and it is important to take them into consideration when designing home for ageing in place.