Why do people get shorter with age

The body in old age

Sooner or later, aging affects the whole body and all organs. There are great differences from person to person in the form and time of occurrence of the various age-related changes. Important changes are, for example:


The ability of the eyes to adapt to short distances and to focus on them decreases, as does the ability to adapt to changing light conditions. By the age of around 60, the lens of the eye in most people has lost its ability to adapt to short distances (presbyopia). This development is often noticeable from the age of 40.


The hearing in both ears deteriorates due to changes in the inner ear. Most of the time, those affected hear the high notes worse. In addition, annoying noises can occur in old age (tinnitus).

Smell, taste & thirst

The perception of smell and taste decrease with age. Possible consequences are decreased appetite and an unbalanced diet. Normally salted food often tastes bland and bland (e.g. hospital meals). The feeling of thirst decreases, so that older people often take in too little fluid. Seniors sometimes have to practice drinking properly.


Over the years, the number of brain cells decreases and the connections between the nerve cells in the brain function poorly. This mainly affects the forebrain, the seat of higher mental and perceptual abilities. Among other things, responsible for this is the decrease in the production of the messenger substance acetylcholine, which is needed for signal transmission in the nerve cells responsible for thinking, remembering, learning and spatial orientation. In addition, the insulating layer of nerve cells, the so-called myelin, is broken down with age. This is why older people learn and react a little more slowly than young people. Processes that were previously unconscious, such as walking, are partially taken over by higher regions in the brain. This reduces the ability to process stimuli at the same time. The divided attention decreases and, for example, the risk of falling increases.

However, the brain can be trained well into old age, as failed nerve connections can be taken over by others and even new brain cells are formed. Therefore, older people also retain a high ability to learn and can even be superior to younger people if acquired knowledge and experience are necessary to solve problems.
Diseases such as Alzheimer's, an underactive thyroid or insufficient blood flow to the brain can further intensify the decline in mental performance. Medicines and alcohol can also damage or even destroy nerve cells in the brain.


The skin becomes thinner and drier with age and contains fewer protein fibers such as collagen, which keep it elastic and stretchable. The decrease in the water content in the body can be seen in the skin's state of tension. The subcutaneous fat tissue also decreases. As a result, it loses its firm and smooth appearance and forms wrinkles.


The bones are subject to a constant build-up and breakdown process throughout their life. In old age, however, the breakdown process gains the upper hand, especially when there is a lack of vitamin D. More bone substance is broken down than it is built up. This particularly affects women from the menopause. The bones of older people are therefore less stable and break more easily. A pathological breakdown of bone substance is also referred to as osteoporosis.


With age, the body loses water, which is also an integral part of the cartilage tissue in the joints. The cartilages shrink and lose their cushioning properties. This limits the mobility of the joints and pain can occur in the vertebrae, knees or hips. Mechanical wear and tear of the cartilage as a result of years of incorrect or excessive loading can accelerate this process (osteoarthritis).

connective tissue

The elasticity of the connective tissue decreases. This affects the walls of the blood vessels, among other things. This obstructs the blood flow and increases the systolic (upper) blood pressure, while the diastolic (lower) value tends to decrease. This increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.


The muscles are built up more slowly than at a young age, but more fat is stored. Above all, the muscle fibers that are needed for short, fast performances such as sprints, decrease. However, this process can be influenced by targeted training. So even in old age it is still possible to increase muscle strength.


As a muscle, the heart is also affected by the aging process: muscle fibers are replaced by connective tissue and the performance of the heart decreases. High blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or shortness of breath are possible signs of such changes. Deposits in the blood vessels also increase blood pressure (arteriosclerosis), the wall of which is less elastic with age. Consequences of these changes can be heart attacks and strokes.

Kidneys & bladder

The kidneys lose some of their functionality with age, which is why some medications have to be dosed differently. In addition, the pelvic floor, bladder muscles and sphincter muscles of the anus lose their elasticity, so that older people often have to go to the toilet at night to urinate. Sometimes the urge to urinate can no longer be controlled (incontinence). In men, the prostate can enlarge, resulting in incontinence, urinary disorders and pain. A dreaded complication is the development of prostate cancer. It is therefore recommended that men aged 45 and over have an annual prostate check-up.


The hormonal balance changes with age in both women (menopause) and men. Some hormones, such as testosterone or estrogen, decrease, others are increased, e.g. insulin and gonadotropin. The thyroid gland also produces fewer hormones.

immune system

The immune system becomes weaker with age. The immune system of older people produces fewer defense cells and antibodies, so that numerous pathogens are more likely to lead to diseases and these are more severe. With increasing age, the body reacts more sensitively to pathogens and diseases have significantly more complications.

Intestines & digestion

Over the years, the body's glands produce fewer hormones and digestive secretions. A reduced insulin production by the pancreas can lead to type 2 diabetes (old-age sugar). Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract such as irritation of the appendix, ulcers, constipation, chronic intestinal inflammation and intestinal obstruction are also more common in old age.

Body composition

The composition of the body changes over the years. The percentage of water and muscle mass decrease, the percentage of body fat increases. According to the body water percentage in 30-year-olds is around 60%, in sporty 55 to 65-year-old men and women it drops to 56 and 49%, respectively. This development accelerates with age.