Adult development and aging: Biopsychosocial Perspectives, 4th edition

“Everyone ages. This very fact should be enough to draw you into the subject matter of this course, whether you are the student or the instructor. Yet, for many people, it is difficult to imagine the future in 50, 40, or even 10 years from now. The goal of our book is to help you imagine your future and the future of your family, your friends, and your society. We have brought together the latest scientific findings about aging with a more personal approach to encourage you to take this imaginative journey into your future. […]

Our goal is to engage you by presenting you with information that is of both personal and professional interest. We will explore the variety of ways individuals can affect their own aging process, such as through incorporating behaviors and activities designed to maintain high levels of functioning well into the later decades of life.”

From the introduction and first part of chapter 1 of the book. I thought the subject would be interesting to read about, and apparently this is the kind of stuff that’s available. I’m not super impressed at this point as there’s a lot of ‘talk’ included in the first chapters of the book – they tend to use many words to say very little. And quite a bit of the talk stuff is just unscientific theorizing without data. But there’s some interesting stuff here as well. Below some stuff from the first 3 chapters (click to view figures in a higher resolution):

“In 1900, the number of Americans over the age of 65 years made up about 4% of the population […] People 65 and older now represent 12.3% of the total U.S. population […] In 1990, an estimated 37,306 people over the age of 100 lived in the United States. By 2004 this number increased 73% to 64,658, and by 2050 there will be over 1.1 million of these exceptionally aged individuals.”

“Women over the age of 65 currently outnumber men, amounting to approximately 58% of the total over-65 population [in the US]. […] In 2010, there were 531 million people worldwide over the age of 65. Predictions suggest that this number will triple to 1.53 billion by the year 2050 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010c). China currently has the largest number of older adults (106 million), but Japan has the highest percentage of people 65 and older (20%) (Kinsella & He, 2009). […]



“The most compelling attempts to explain aging through genetics are based on the principle of replicative senescence, or the loss of the ability of cells to reproduce. Scientists have long known that there are a finite number of times (about 50) that normal human cells can proliferate in culture before they become terminally incapable of further division (Hayflick, 1994).

Until relatively recently, scientists did not know why cells had a limited number of divisions. It was only when the technology needed to look closely at the chromosome developed that researchers uncovered some of the mystery behind this process.

As we saw in Figure 2.6, the chromosome is made up largely of DNA. However, at either end of the chromosomes are telomeres, repeating sequences of proteins that contain no genetic information (see Figure 2.8). The primary function of the telomere is to protect the chromosome from damage. With each cell division, the telomeres become shorter, ultimately altering patterns of gene expression affecting the functioning of the cell and the organ system in which it operates. Once telomeres shorten to the point of no longer being able to protect the chromosome, adjacent chromosomes fuse, the cell cycle is halted, and ultimately the cell dies (Shin, Hong, Solomon, & Lee, 2006). Evidence linking telomere length to mortality in humans suggests that the telomeres may ultimately hold the key to understanding the aging process (Cluett & Melzer, 2009).

However, biology does not completely explain the loss of telomeres over the course of life. Supporting the idea of biopsychosocial interactions in development, researchers have linked telomere length to social factors. Analyzing blood samples from more than 1,500 female twins, researchers in the United Kingdom determined that telomere length was shorter in women from lower socioeconomic classes (Cherkas et al., 2006). There was a difference of seven ‘‘biological years’’ (measured in terms of telomeres) between twins with manual jobs and their co-twins in higher-ranking occupations. The researchers attributed this difference to the stress of being in a lower-level occupation in which people have less control over their day-to-day activities. Body mass index, smoking, and lack of exercise were additional factors influencing telomere length. A subsequent study on this sample provided further research of the important role of lifestyle factors. Even after the researchers adjusted for such factors as age, socioeconomic status, smoking, and body mass index, people who engaged in higher levels of physical activity had longer telomeres than those who did not (Cherkas et al., 2008). […]

Random error theories are based on the assumption that aging reflects unplanned changes in an organism over time. The wear and tear theory of aging is one that many people implicitly refer to when they say they feel that they are ‘‘falling apart’’ as they get older. According to this view, the body, like a car, acquires more and more damage as it is exposed to daily wear and tear from weather, use, accidents, and mechanical insults. Programmed aging theories, in contrast, would suggest that the car was not ‘‘built to last,’’ but rather was meant to deteriorate over time in a systematic fashion.  […]

The free radical theory, or oxidative stress theory (Sohal, 2002), focuses on a set of unstable compounds known as free radicals, produced when certain molecules in cells react with oxygen. The primary goal of a free radical is to seek out and bind to other molecules. When this occurs, the molecule attacked by the free radical loses functioning. Although oxidation caused by free radicals is a process associated with increasing age, researchers have questioned the utility of this approach as a general theory of aging (Perez et al., 2009).”

Chapter 3 has some stuff on problems with making causal claims in this area of research and some stuff on longitudinal studies and cross-sectional studies in this area, including pros and cons of the two types of studies. After they’ve covered this stuff they note that:

“considerable progress in some areas of research has been made through the application of sequential designs. These designs consist of different combinations of the variables age, cohort, and time of measurement. Simply put, a sequential design involves a ‘‘sequence’’ of studies, such as a cross-sectional study carried out twice (two sequences) over a span of 10 years. The sequential nature of these designs is what makes them superior to the truly descriptive designs conducted on one sample, followed over time (longitudinal design) or on different-aged samples, tested on one occasion (cross-sectional design). Not only do sequential studies automatically provide an element of replication, but when they are carried out as intended, statistical analyses can permit remarkably strong inferences to be drawn about the effect of age as distinct from cohort or time of measurement.”

Much of the stuff covered in chapter 3 on research methods should be known stuff to people reading a blog like this, because aging research isn’t that different from other types of research. I skimmed over some of this stuff because much of it is (a wordier and less formalized way to deal with) known stuff from introductionary statistics classes in my past.

December 18, 2012 - Posted by | biology, books, data, demographics, health, statistics

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