In a new study, researchers found that people grow old at different rates, regardless of what the calendar says.
And for those whose bodies age more quickly, the cumulative effects show up as early as midlife, when signs of dementia and physical frailty begin to emerge.
The findings suggest that identifying and treating the diseases of old age should begin by the time people celebrate their 45th birthday.
The research was conducted by a team at Duke University.
Aging isn’t something that happens suddenly when people reach their 60s, it’s a lifelong process.
In the study, the team created a unique database within a study that was established in New Zealand in the 1970s.
The Dunedin Study enrolled 1,037 babies born in 1972-73, and more than 90% the participants are still enrolled and continue to participate in periodic health measurements.
The team used nineteen distinct health factors collected regularly among this group to establish a means of measuring the biological aging process.
They found that some of the 45-year-olds aged at a rate that was slower than average for their chronological age.
These slow-aging participants looked younger (their faces had fewer wrinkles), they remained mentally sharp, their heart health was good and they continued to walk at a brisk pace.
On the other end of the spectrum were 45-year-olds who aged more rapidly.
These people looked older, showed signs of cognitive decline as measured by IQ scores, felt less healthy and even tended to have pessimistic attitudes about aging.
By midlife, people who had aged more rapidly were already at risk of developing frailties that impair physical and financial independence.
The analysis shows that the pace of aging is a strong indicator of the cumulative, progressive and gradual deterioration across organ systems that underlies biological aging.
The team says that earlier interventions to slow the speed of aging would have benefits both for individuals and to the broader society.
The study is published in Nature Aging. One author of the study is Maxwell Elliott.
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