Much of the research on human aging has been conducted in animal models and in older people. The Dunedin Study in New Zealand, funded in part by NIA, has taken a different approach, studying a group of 1,037 people born in 1972-73 from birth to age 38. Study investigators recently reported that they have identified, differences in the “biological age” of participants, indicating that young adults are aging at different rates.
The researchers developed and validated two methods to measure aging in young adults. One method applied an algorithm of multiple biological measures, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. . Using this method, some 38-year-olds appeared biologically older than their peers. A second method assessed the deterioration of several organ systems (heart, lung, kidney, liver, and immune function) over 12 years. They found that some study members aged at a faster rate than others.
Study members with advanced biological age had poorer physical function and cognitive performance than those with younger biological age. Further, participants with older biological age considered themselves to have poorer health than biologically younger peers. When researchers showed a group of university students photos of study participants of the same chronological age and asked them to rate their age, the students scored the appearance of the biologically older participants as older than that of the biologically younger ones.
The researchers suggest that future studies of aging continue to follow individuals over the life course to better understand rates of aging, starting from a young age, as well as incorporate repeated biological measures to monitor and predict health states. They also note that therapies to prevent age-related diseases could possibly be implemented earlier in the life course in biologically older people.
Reference: Belsky, D.W., et al., Quantification of biological aging in young adults, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 6, 2015. Published online ahead of print.