Diseases & Conditions

Aging Changes in Vital Signs


Overview & Description

Normal changes in vital signs occur as an individual ages. Vital signs include temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate.

What is the information for this topic?

As an individual ages, vital signs change in certain ways.

Temperature

The body temperature often remains normal. However, the body must work harder to control temperature. As a person ages, the skin becomes thinner and less elastic, or stretchable. The layer of fat tissue under the skin also becomes thinner. This is the reason older people often feel cold in a room that has normal temperature. The ability to get rid of excess heat by sweating is also reduced, making older persons more likely to suffer in hot weather. It may also become more difficult to sense changes in body temperature.

Pulse

Pulse is a measure of heart rate over a 1-minute period of time. As a person ages, the heart rate at rest usually remains the same. However, the rate may not speed up as quickly with exercise. The heart rate may also take longer to return to normal after exercise.

Blood Pressure

Many people have an increase in their blood pressure with age. Some individuals develop orthostatic hypotension, or a rapid drop in blood pressure when they stand up. Regardless of the cause, high blood pressure is usually treated to reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Breathing Rate

The breathing rate is less affected by age than other vital signs. However, lung function decreases with age. The individual may need to exercise less strenuously or for a shorter period of time.

Prevention

Medicines can be used to control problems with vital signs. At the same time, some medicines can cause changes in vital signs. Any problems with these medicines should be reported to the healthcare provider. These include:

  • diuretics, which can cause low blood pressure
  • some medicines for treatment of heart disease, which can lower blood pressure or pulse
  • some pain medicines, which may slow the breathing rate
  • Many steps can be taken to help keep vital signs under control. Certain tips can help avoid problems with vital signs. Elderly individuals should avoid:

  • extreme hot or cold conditions
  • overly vigorous exercise
  • rapid changes in position, such as suddenly standing up from a prone position
  • Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.


    Attribution

    Author:James Broomfield, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:09/28/01
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:09/25/01