Aging is a natural part of life. As people grow older, they become more susceptible to a variety of different health conditions based solely on the cellular processes that go along with the aging process.
Much of medical science in the field of aging has been focused on how to treat age-related diseases as they arise, but there has been a limited focus on the mechanisms that cause aging to be a risk factor for many health ailments. Geroscience aims to bridge that gap in research when it comes to aging and age-related diseases. But what is geroscience, exactly? And how might it affect the future of medicine?
What is geroscience?
Geroscience is an area of study that revolves around figuring out the exact process of aging and its cellular, biological, and genetic mechanisms, as well as age-related diseases. Putting both the biology of aging and age-related diseases together, scientists working in the geroscience arena aim to treat aging as opposed to age-related diseases in the hopes of staying healthy as long as possible.
Many older adults suffer from more than one affliction by the time they reach a certain stage of life, most of which can be attributed to aging alone. By addressing the physiology of aging head-on, geroscience aims to intervene with the onset of those conditions.
What factors affect aging?
There are many different factors that affect the aging process. Genetics, for example, plays a role in how quickly a person ages; however, its influence is much smaller than other factors such as physical and social environment and personal characteristics. Beginning at an early age, a person’s environment begins to influence how they will age. For example, someone who lives in a comfortable home and has limited stress in their lives will age slower than someone who is homeless or deals with chronic stress on a daily basis.
Physical stressors and environment not only cause the body to age physically, but mentally as well. People who grow up in ideal environments may also be more likely to lead healthier lifestyles and participate in healthier behaviors well into adulthood, whereas the opposite may be true for those who live in less-than-adequate environments.
Specific environmental factors that can contribute to aging include:
- Diet and nutrition
- Exercise and weight
- Whether a person smokes, uses illicit substances, or drinks alcohol on a regular basis
- Daily stress levels
- Sun, cold, and moisture exposure
The way a person lives in relation to the aforementioned factors will have a great impact on how ‘well’ they age.
What impact does aging have on disease prevention?
Disease prevention is typically achieved by leading a healthy lifestyle and avoiding unhealthier habits such as smoking and alcohol use. However, aging is unavoidable, and prevention of age-related diseases is much more difficult. If aging is an inevitable process, how can one prevent the diseases that are caused simply by getting older?
Although some age-related diseases such as stroke and heart disease can be mitigated with healthy living, there are others such as Alzheimer’s that don’t discriminate on the basis of lifestyle factors. Aging is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, making it primarily an age-related illness.
What are some common age-related diseases?
Aside from stroke, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, there are other age-related diseases that have the common risk factor of getting older. High blood pressure, for example, is a type of disease that can occur at any age, but as people get older, the risk of it developing is increased. Cancer can also be developed at any age, but one of the biggest risks for many types of cancer is age. Close to 80% of cancers will develop in those over the age of 55.
Other diseases that are typically more prevalent in the aging population include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Hearing loss
Although these diseases can occur in younger adults, they all fit into the category of the age-related diseases that geroscience aims to understand further. With a better understanding of aging and why it brings on certain diseases, the odds of preventing these illnesses may be better.
Will we be able to reverse aging soon?
With geroscience, the future of aging and age-related diseases could lead to a healthier older population, lower health care costs, a better quality of life for older adults, and possibly even cures for many of the age-related diseases that the older population is plagued by.
While some promising advancements in medicine have shown that reversal of aging in human cells and other simple organisms is possible, being able to fully reverse the aging of an entire human body would be a great scientific feat. Although the science is not there yet, it’s not something that many are throwing off the table entirely.
Geroscience will give researchers a better understanding of how people age, why they age, and what happens to the body on a cellular level that leads to age-related diseases. This research may just unlock the secret to aging that could lead to reversal, or at least the prevention of many age-related diseases.
Featured image by Damir Bosnjak on Unsplash