Senescence and senility: know the difference

Senescence and Senility – What you need to know about the human aging process

The idea that aging is dominated by disease is something very present in the population’s imagination. However, it is not always shown as something real, because, even with losses, both at the biological and economic, social and psychological levels, maintaining activities and social and family engagement favors healthy aging.

There is a big difference between the terms senility e senescence in theory and also in experience. Both are linked to aging, however, they are frames with very different impacts on health.

What is senescence?

A senescence encompasses all alterations produced in the organism of a living being – whether from the animal or plant kingdom – and which are directly related to its evolution over time, without any recognized disease mechanism. They are, therefore, the alterations that the body goes through and that are the result of physiological processes, which do not characterize diseases and are common to all elements of the same species, with biological variations. It is noteworthy that this process, although universal, varies from one individual to another, that is, some age “better” than others, depending on genetic and environmental factors.

What is senility?

Me and senility it is a complement of senescence in the phenomenon of aging. Geriatricians define it as conditions that affect the individual throughout life based on pathophysiological mechanisms. They are, therefore, diseases that compromise people’s quality of life, but are not common to all of them in the same age group. So are the hormone loss in men that prevents fertility, osteoarthritis, depression and diabetes, among other impairments. It is important to be clear that not every alteration means illness, but we must be careful not to attribute some processes that appear in old age to the normal aging of the organism.

What causes senescence?

Several factors can accelerate the aging process, and these factors influence the arrival of Senescence:

– Inadequate nutrition throughout life: a series of factors influence the nutritional status of the elderly, requiring a detailed investigation for an adequate nutritional intervention. Eating habits are a fundamental part of ensuring the quality of life of the elderly. The correct diet can increase functional capacity and reduce the occurrence of diseases.

– Sedentary lifestyle: sedentary lifestyle and aging are directly linked. This is because the lack of physical exercise also influences aging, which is the result of the sum of external factors (quality of life) and internal factors (genetic factors).

– Social isolation: The WHO (World Health Organization) has a document that educates about issues related to Loneliness and Social Isolation and in it there is strong evidence that social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of the elderly population for physical health problems (cardiovascular diseases and strokes) and mental health problems (such as cognitive decline, dementia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicide).

– Presence of untreated chronic diseases: chronic diseases in the elderly are common and can be caused by several factors.s. Regardless of the cause, modifiable risk factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, sedentary lifestyle, consumption of unhealthy foods and obesity increase the chances of diseases developing. When not treated, NCDs (Chronic Non-Transmissible Diseases) cause several damages to the health of the elderly, resulting in clinical decompensation and damage to health.

Effects of senescence on the organism

Senescence is the natural aging process and this brings to the body several signs and limitations not noticed before in other stages of life:

– Effects of senescence on the musculoskeletal system: with aging, there may be loss of muscle mass and changes in bone structure, limiting or hindering functional capacity. Muscle atrophy causes loss of tone and strength.

– Effects of senescence on the circulatory system: the vessel walls tend to become more rigid and thicker and the functioning of the circulatory system may undergo changes, with circulatory failure and significant changes in blood pressure.

– Effects of senescence on the nervous system: senescence also causes brain atrophy and reduction of neurons. The brain loses between 5% to 10% of its weight. These alterations affect memory and reasoning capacity.

– Effects of senescence on the digestive system: there is a reduction in the mobility and absorptive capacity of the intestine. The oral mucosa atrophies and the papillae of the tongue decrease. Decreased facial muscle mass and loss of teeth contribute to difficulty chewing. The stomach takes longer to empty and gastric secretion is also reduced as a result of senescence. This can cause some drugs to be inactivated or have their effects reduced.

– Effects of senescence on the genitourinary system: the renal filtration capacity decreases and, with this, the excretion of drugs is impaired and the risk of renal failure increases. The ability to store urine in the bladder is also reduced, and in men, an enlarged prostate can compromise urinary flow.

Differences between senility and senescence

There is a difference between the terms Senility and Senescence, although both are related to aging. However, they are situations with different impacts on health.

Senescence: covers all changes that occur in the human body over time and that do not constitute diseases.- Appearance of gray hair;
– Loss of hair;
– Loss of flexibility of the skin;
– Appearance of wrinkles;
– Height reduction;
– Loss of muscle mass.

Senility: condition that affects the individual throughout life, due to pathophysiological mechanisms.
– Emergence of chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, kidney and heart failure, chronic lung disease and others);
– Environmental and medication interferences;
– Dementia;
– Alzheimer’s disease;
– Depression;
– Memory loss, confusion and disorientation.


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