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The Clinical Gerontology Branch focuses on research which characterizes physiological changes across the human life span that influence the risk of age-related diseases/conditions. Specific aspects of changes across the life span include:
- Rates of aging changes in different physiologic outcomes. The rates of progression of change with age in physiologic and pathologic factors affect many health outcomes directly. For example, individuals showing slow rates of change in a given outcome may be at reduced risk or “protected” from developing an age-related condition. In addition, the predictive value of rates of change at one period of the life span in regard to future rates of change in other outcomes and risk for age-related conditions is of interest.
- Variability of changes and its determinants. Additional research on variability within populations, in individuals and its determinants (genetic and other factors) could yield new information on potential protective factors (e.g., beneficial physiologic characteristic which tracks over time), earliest stages of disease (e.g., higher level of arterial calcification for their age) and possibly lead to criteria that could distinguish between individuals more or least likely to respond to a given intervention.
- Early- and mid-life influences on later life health and function. Identify significant changes occurring in early and mid-life and their consequences for clinically significant subsequent changes in later life. Many factors that change between youth and middle age may be early steps, essential precursors, or predisposing factors, in pathologic processes that do not become symptomatic until old age. (These may include factors that do not change much at later ages.) Similarly, early life events may have consequences that do not become apparent until much more advanced age.
- Exceptional survival. This includes the identification of protective factors contributing to exceptionally healthy aging as expressed by exceptional longevity, exceptional “health span” or exceptionally slow rates of physiologic decline, and to test human interventions with potential to contribute to exceptionally healthy aging. Identifying factors that contribute to long and healthy life can lead to improved interventions that can help delay or prevent the onset of age-related disease and disability and can increase the time that older persons spend in good health.