Understanding Hair Loss And Alopecia In The Over 50s
Unfortunately, thinning hair or hair loss is a very natural occurrence for those of us over 50. For many of us, the effects of that hair loss may not show very much, but for some, the effects can be quite noticeable, leaving you feeling self conscious and even unattractive.
Many of us expect that when we reach a certain age, our hair may not be as thick and lustrous as it once was. But alopecia doesn’t always mean a bit of general thinning all over and it can affect us in ways we wouldn’t have imagined.
Types of Hair Loss
The most common types of hair loss are androgenetic alopecia, otherwise known as male or female pattern baldness, and alopecia areata.
Androgenetic alopecia classically manifests itself in a receding hairline in males, followed by thinning of the hair on the crown and temples, whereas in females it tends to only thin on top of the head. Alopecia areata often starts with individual bald patches about the size of a 10p piece. The condition can remain as patches or can develop to total baldness and in the most severe cases can even result in loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair. There are many other types of hair loss too.
Regardless of the type of alopecia, the emotional impact of losing hair is something that medical professionals can often overlook.
What is the Psychological Effect of Hair Loss?
So, why can losing some or all hair impact an individual psychologically?
Hair loss can hit an individual’s confidence and self-esteem. For people aged over 50, they have had a lifetime of possessing a full head of hair. It can be a real shock to suddenly lose something that has always been there.
Individuals with hair loss may experience feelings of sadness, anger and grief. As alopecia is not a life-threatening condition, it is also common for those with hair loss to feel guilty for feeling down. Many with alopecia find themselves comparing the condition to life-threatening illnesses and this is often where feelings of guilt can kick in.
Alopecia, in particular alopecia areata, can be extremely unpredictable. It can happen over a period of time or quite suddenly. Individuals may lose all the hair on their scalp in a matter of days or it can take months or even years. Regardless of over how long a period the hair loss occurs, it can be really challenging. Sudden hair loss can send people into a state of shock, whereas longer periods of hair loss can present an ongoing cycle of despair.
With alopecia areata, it is also possible for it to strike in an area which can be very difficult to cover up. For instance a person could lose a single eyebrow or develop a single bald patch on the scalp that would be difficult to cover with remaining hair. Alopecia is not always as straightforward as a completely bald head. People lose eyelashes, sideburns, patches in beards – anything is possible.
Many people with alopecia, mainly women, choose to wear wigs to conceal their hair loss. However some find wigs difficult to wear, either because they are physically uncomfortable, emotionally uncomfortable or both.
Other reasons alopecia is a difficult condition to deal with psychologically are the reactions of others and how people with hair loss are perceived in the media. Alopecia doesn’t tend to be something that is widely discussed. We don’t see many positive images of men and women with hair loss. If a celebrity is spotted with a hair loss problem, or even simply a ‘bad hair day’, the media can make a huge issue out of it. We particularly don’t see many images of women with hair loss in the mainstream media. This can make it harder for women to discuss their hair loss and female hair loss has been a taboo topic for many years.
The opposite effect can occur for men. Because baldness in men is more accepted by wider society, men can find themselves on the receiving end of insensitive remarks as it’s considered a balding man is ‘fair game’ for teasing and jokes. What anyone making these comments is failing to realise is that many men suffer inner turmoil at the loss of their hair and that such remarks can cut deep.
The feelings that can accompany hair loss of any type can be really challenging to cope with. Many have found that it really helps to speak to others who have experienced the same. Support groups can help to bring together people to share their feelings. Alopecia UK is a small registered charity in the UK which offers information, support and advice to those affected by this condition. It has a number of support groups in the UK.
If you would like to read more about Alopecia UK, you can follow this link to their website.
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