A new measure for aging

agingFor centuries, humans have been searching for a fountain of youth to reverse the effects of aging.  While no one has ever found one, scientists are getting closer to understanding why some people age with fewer ailments than others, and what that means for anti-aging therapies.

Recently, researchers from Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy conducted a study of nearly 1,000 adults. While not a systematic review, their work provides important insights into understanding why individuals age at different rates.

For the study, researchers used physical markers to measure the biological age of participants’ organ systems including their lungs, teeth, cardiovascular system, kidneys, liver and immune system. They measured this biological age when one group of participants was 38 years old. For a second group, they measured biological age over 12-year period, beginning at age 26. This analysis provided a look at participants “pace of aging.”

The researchers found that participants aged at vastly different rates. Some 38-year-olds had the physical age of a 28-year-old, while others had the physical age of a 60-year-old.  Their calculation of the “pace of aging” found some participants with older biological ages consistently aged more rapidly than those with younger biological ages.

Study participants with older biological ages performed worse on physical tests of balance, fine motor coordination, grip strength. They also reported more physical difficulties in their daily lives and scored more poorly on cognitive tests, such as the ability to  think abstractly, identify patterns and solve problems.

Participants with more advanced biological ages were also found to look older. For this segment of the study, researchers recruited a panel of Duke University undergraduates, who were shown facial images of study participants. The students consistently rated participants with advanced biological age as looking older than those with younger biological ages.

The take-home message: Some humans age faster than others, and there are sound methods to evaluate individuals’ biological age. This discovery opens the door to even more research how and why people age, and provide a mechanism to measure whether anti-aging therapies work.

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