Just like many other parts of your body, your hair changes as you age. For instance, most of us expect our hair to go grey or white hair as we get older. But what if you notice some hair loss? Should you be worried? In fact, hair loss in older adults is a normal part of the aging process and isn't usually cause for concern. Your hair's texture and thickness will also change over time and these changes are considered typical.
Both men and women experience thinner hair with age, and there are several different types of hair loss that can affect people. If you choose to treat the condition, the treatment will depend on the cause of your thinning hair.
Normal Hair Loss in Older Adults
As a person ages, there are several normal, aging-related changes to hair growth patterns that can result in thinner locks. In fact, nearly every older adult has some hair loss or change in thickness. These are some of the things you may notice as part of normal aging:
- Fewer individual hairs - An individual hair has a typical lifespan of up to seven years. When that hair falls out at the end of its normal lifespan, it's usually replaced by a new hair in the same follicle. However, as you age, some of your hair follicles will stop producing new hairs, resulting in fewer hairs on your head.
- Finer strands of hair - Individual strands of hair also become finer with age. While someone may have course hair in their 20s, they are likely to have fine hair in their 60s or 70s. This can make your hair feel thinner overall.
- Slower hair growth - The growth rate of hair decreases with age. This happens because the follicles simply do not allow for hair to grow as quickly. You may find that you need haircuts less often.
Possible Causes of Aging-Related Hair Loss
In addition to the normal aging process, there are a number of conditions that can cause hair to thin. Some of these are lifestyle-related, but many are just part of your genetics or environment.
Hereditary Androgenic Alopecia
The most common cause of hair loss in aging men and women is androgenic alopecia. Individuals may start losing hair any time after puberty, but it is common for hair loss patterns to become present after the age of 40. The pattern of the thinning hair presents differently in people who are biologically male or female:
- People who are biologically male tend to lose their hair near the temples at the crown of the head, sometimes eventually losing all or most of their hair.
- People who are biologically female experience alopecia as an all-over thinning of the scalp hair, rather than patches of baldness.
This type of thinning hair does not occur because of medications or disease. Rather, it is often hereditary. For example, if a man's father lost his hair as an older man, it is likely that his son will also lose his hair around the same time. This condition can also be passed on from a mother to their biologically male offspring.
After menopause, the growth rate of hair slows dramatically, and some people also experience hair loss. You may notice more hair coming out when you brush or wash your hair, or your hair may simply feel thinner when you style it.
One 2022 study found that over 52% of post-menopausal people experience some level of hair loss. Older age, time since menopause, and a higher body mass index were all associated with hair loss after menopause, although the study did not establish any cause and effect relationship.
If you're not getting enough iron in your diet, you may be at risk for hair loss. According to a 2018 review of the literature, the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide was not getting enough iron. What's more, biological women who experience hair loss are likely to also have low iron levels.
However, the review found that studies offer conflicting information about whether the iron deficiency was actually the cause of the hair loss. Even so, it's worth talking to your doctor if you're experience hair loss and may be iron deficient.
Hypothyroidism is a hormonal condition in which the thyroid hormone is not properly regulated, and one of its key symptoms can be dry and thinning hair.
Studies have established a link between hypothyroidism and hair loss, and there's even evidence that patients with hypothyroidism may have structural differences in the hair follicles. Hair loss happens rapidly for many. For some, the hair thins considerably. For others, with a more serious form of the condition, large chunks of hair may fall out. However, when hypothyroidism is controlled with medication, the hair loss usually stops.
Diabetes, especially type 1 diabetes, can cause hair loss in some individuals. The stress of this illness can cause hair to stop growing, and this type of hair loss often occurs in patches instead of all over the head. When new hair grows in place of hair that is lost, it may grow in slowly.
Those with type 2 diabetes may have hormonal imbalances, which can also lead to hair loss. Effective management of diabetes may improve hair loss.
Poor nutrition may contribute to hair loss in older people. According to the 2018 review that examined the role of iron deficiency in hair loss, there are a number of nutrients that may contribute to thinner hair. Some diets that are deficient in nutrients can cause hair shafts to weaken. This may causes hair to break and to grow back more slowly.
In addition to iron, some nutrients necessary for proper hair growth include the following:
- B vitamins, including B6 and B12
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Some older adults do not maintain a healthy diet. A diet rich in lean proteins (chicken and fish), vegetables, and fruits often supply enough nutrients to avoid deficiencies.
Whatever your age, certain hairstyles can result in hair loss over time. Styles that pull on the hair can stress the follicles and the hair shaft, eventually leading to patches of hair loss. This is particularly true if you wear the same tight hairstyles for long periods of time.
The following hairstyles are associated with thinning hair:
- Buns and updos that pull the hair
- Cornrows or tight braids
- Hair extensions
- Tight ponytails
Additionally, if you sleep with rollers in your hair, this could put too much tension on the hair shaft as well.
As individuals age, they may become more susceptible to illness. Some medicines used to treat these illnesses can cause hair loss, including the following:
- Antidepressants - Studies have shown that antidepressants can cause hair loss, but not all types of depression medication have the same risk for your hair. Talk to your doctor about your specific medicine if you suspect it's causing thinning.
- Blood pressure medicines - If you're on medicine for your blood pressure, it may also have a side effect of hair loss. This association is particularly strong with beta blockers.
- Blood thinners - Some anticoagulants can cause hair loss. These medications are used to treat various heart conditions and clotting issues, but not all of them cause thinning hair.
- Chemotherapy medications - These medications specifically target cell production, which happens when hair grows. Since chemotherapy drugs drastically destroy cells, which are dividing, the cells forming hair are lost and the hair falls out.
Other medications can also cause hair to fall out or grow thinner in some patients. The American Hair Loss Association lists a number of medications that can lead to hair loss.
How to Manage Hair Loss for Older Adults
Since aging hair generally does not grow at as rapid a pace as it once did, it's important to protect the hair in order to slow down additional thinning. There are some changes you can make that could slow down the loss and some treatments that can help restore some of your hair's thickness.
Certain daily choices may have an impact on your hair, so consider making the following adjustments:
- Avoid excessive washing, heat styling, an brushing of thinning hair.
- Check to see if your medications have side effects that could be causing hair loss.
- Don't wear tight hairstyles.
- Eat a healthy diet that offers plenty of vitamins and minerals to support hair health.
- If you're a smoker, consider quitting. Several studies have shown an association between smoking and hair loss.
Medications and Supplements
There are several types of medications and supplements available that help slow down and treat hair loss in men and women. These are some of the options you may want to discuss with your doctor:
- Finasteride - Finasteride slows hair loss and even promotes new hair growth in some people, but the side effects can be challenging. These may include erectile dysfunction and suicidal thoughts for the oral form of the drug, but a topical lotion was also effective and produced far fewer side effects.
- Iron supplements - If hair loss is related to iron deficiency, an oral iron supplement may help increase the growth and thickness of hair. Iron supplements can be harmful in large amounts, so discuss their use with your doctor.
- Minoxidil - Rogaine, otherwise known as minoxidil, started off as a blood pressure medication and is now a topical solution that stimulates hair growth. It comes in both a topical lotion and an oral form, and both are effective at restoring hair growth.
Hair transplants can help restore your hair to areas where it no longer grows on its own. During this procedure, the doctor will remove a small part of the scalp to create grafts. These grafts contain a few hairs and are placed in the balding areas. New hair usually grows in within a few months.
This medical procedure is often very effective, but it can be painful. New advancements in the procedure are growing in popularity, including robot-assisted extraction of the hair follicle for relocation.
It's normal for hair to thin as you get older, but this can sometimes be distressing. Hair is an important part of physical appearance and can be connected to identity for some people. There are many options for treating hair loss in older adults, depending on the cause of the thinning hair and the needs of the patient. Work with your doctor to determine why your hair is thinner and what your choices are for slowing the hair loss or regrowing some of your lost locks.