Friday, December 20, 2013

Population Aging Research Redefined

Fairly often I hear people say, "You're as old as you feel" or "45 is the new 35".

Turns out, they might actually be true. 

In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Population and Development Review in 2013 population researchers Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov redefines the way demographers study population aging. 

Previously, studies on aging highlighted one characteristic: chronological age. However with the rising average age of athletes, new mothers, and ultimately end of life, Sanderson and Scherbov sought to go beyond the number. 

“Your true age is not just the number of years you have lived,” said researcher Sergei Scherbov, Ph.D., of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. It also includes characteristics such as health, cognitive function, and disability rates.

The new study provides a framework for measuring aging based on characteristics of people that change with age, including life expectancy, health, cognitive function and other measures. These measures can be used by demographers to better understanding aging societies.

Demographers have traditionally not used such measures in studies of population and society, leading to strangely different research findings by country for each age group.
However, as lifespans get longer the same age no longer correlates with the same level of health and other such characteristics. The same is true in countries and cultures around the world.

“We used to consider people old at age 65,” said Scherbov. “Today, someone who is 65 may be more like someone who was 55, forty-fifty years ago in terms of many important aspects of their lives.”

Sherbov points out that, "aging is multidimentional", therefore by incorporate how people actually function, the study seeks to provide the foundation of a much richer and more realistic view of population aging.

This holistic approach may bring to light diets, lifestyles, and/or environments ideal for healthy aging, maintaining high quality of life, and perhaps longer lifespans. 

Sanderson, W. C., Scherbov, S. (2013). The characteristics approach to the measurement of population aging. Population and Development Review. 39: 673–685. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2013.00633.x

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