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Aging changes in vital signs

Alternative Names

Blood pressure - aging changes; Breathing rate - aging changes; Temperature - aging changes

Information

The vital signs include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature
  • Breathing rate
  • Heart rate (pulse)

BODY TEMPERATURE

Normal body temperature does not change significantly with aging. However, as you get older, it becomes more difficult for the body to control its temperature. Loss of subcutaneous fat makes it harder to maintain body heat. Many older people find that they need to wear layers of clothing in order to feel warm.

Aging decreases one's ability to sweat. Older adults find it more difficult to tell when they are becoming overheated. Older people are at greater risk for overheating (hyperthermia or heat stroke). They are also at risk for dangerous drops in body temperature (hypothermia).

Fever is an important sign of illness in the elderly. Many times, fever is the only symptom for several days. Any fever that is not explained by a known illness should be investigated by a health care provider.

Often, older people are unable to create a higher temperature with infection so very low temperatures and checking the other vital signs plays an important role in following these people for signs of infection.

HEART AND BREATHING RATE

As you grow older, you may not be able to tolerate as much exercise as you once did. It takes longer for the pulse to increase when exercising, and longer to slow back down after exercise. The maximum heart rate reached with exercise is lowered.

However, although lung function decreases slightly, breathing rate usually does not change with age.Breathing problems are seldom normal. A very elderly person should be able to breathe without effort under usual circumstances.

BLOOD PRESSURE

Many older people find that they become dizzy if they stand up too suddenly. This occurs when blood pressure suddenly drops. A drop in blood pressure upon standing is called orthostatic hypotension.

Other common heart-related problems among older adults include:

EFFECTS OF MEDICATION ON VITAL SIGNS

Medications that are used to treat common disorders in the elderly may also have an effect on the vital signs.

For example, digitalis used for heart failure and certain blood pressure medications called beta blockers may cause the pulse to slow.

Pain medications can slow breathing.

Diuretics can cause low blood pressure and cause it to drop when changing body positions.

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Review Date: 10/27/2008
Reviewed By: Michael Langan, M.D. Department of Geriatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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