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Understanding the Dynamics of the Aging Process

Aging is associated with changes in dynamic biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes. Some age-related changes are benign, such as graying hair. Others result in declines in function of the senses and activities of daily life and increased susceptibility to and frequency of disease, frailty, or disability. In fact, advancing age is the major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases in humans.

Studies from the basic biology of aging using laboratory animals—and now extended to human populations—have led to the emergence of theories to explain aging. While there is no single 'key' to explain aging, these studies have demonstrated that while the passage of time is not altered, the rate of aging can be slowed. These studies suggest that targeting aging will coincidentally slow the appearance and/or lessen the burden of numerous diseases and increase health span (the portion of life spent in good health).

NIA-supported researchers are engaged in basic science at all levels of analysis, from molecular to social, to understand the processes of aging and the factors that determine who ages well and who ages poorly. Research is also ongoing to identify the interactions among genetic, environmental, lifestyle, behavioral, and social factors and their influence on the initiation and progression of age-related diseases and degenerative conditions.

To develop new interventions for the prevention, early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of aging related diseases, disorders, and disabilities, we must first understand their causes and the factors that place people at increased risk for their initiation and progression. NIA has established two goals in the basic science of aging:

Goal A: Better understand the biology of aging and its impact on the prevention, progression, and prognosis of disease and disability.

Goal B: Better understand the effects of personal, interpersonal, and societal factors on aging, including the mechanisms through which these factors exert their effects.