The study found that at a real age of 38, some of the participants were showing signs of being much older than they should be even if they looked only 38.
In contrast to their chronological ages (of 38), these ranged from under 30 to nearly 60 years,” said the report. In other words, each member had a “hidden pace of aging while they were still young on the outside,” they said.
The study found that some individuals were found to be aging as fast as three biological years per year.
Some, in contrast, were aging at zero years per year; they were staying younger than their age.
“As we expected, those who were biologically older at age 38 also appeared to have been aging at a faster pace. A biological age of 40, for example, meant that person was aging at a rate of 1.2 years per year over the 12 years the study examined,” said Dunedin Study Director Professor Richie Poulton.
A large number of health measures—including blood pressure, white blood cell count, liver and kidney function— have been taken regularly along with interviews and other assessments.
Researchers found 18 biomarkers that can be combined to determine whether people are aging faster or slower than their peers.
They found that individuals who were aging more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain aging, reported worse health, and looked older. The latter was based on Duke University students’ judgement of relative age based on study members’ facial photographs.
Professor Poulton said that being able to detect accelerated aging at an early stage paves the way for applying therapies that slow aging and lessen age-related ailments.
“Currently, we are largely stuck in an ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ situation. And by 2050, the world population aged 80 years and over will approach 400 million people, so we are facing an enormous global burden of disease and disability unless we can extend healthy lifespans.”
“The time is right for this kind of multi-factorial way of measuring the aging process, but the measures and methods will have to be refined to be “better, faster and cheaper,” said Dr Dan Belsky, an assistant research professor at Duke University’s Center for Aging.
Researchers are trying to find if it is possible to slow down aging completely, instead of simply curing one age-related disease only for another to pop up immediately.
The study was supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council, the US National Institute on Aging, the UK Medical Research Council, the Jacobs Foundation, and the Yad Hanadiv Rothschild Foundation.