By Erin Alessandroni
We’re living longer, but are we living better? That is, have our 20th century advances in biomedical technology simply extended the period of sickness, or are we in fact healthier than we used to be?
This is the question posed in the latest Forbes column published by Dr. Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center. Dr. Karlawish examines whether using the number of times the Earth takes to travel around the sun to determine someone’s age is the best way to answer the question, “How old am I, and therefore, what should I do?”
The answer to this question leads to social policies that determine things such as when someone retires or when someone receives social security insurance. Dr. Karlawish points out that age also determines how someone feels about themselves, their behaviors, and how society views them.
This system has worked well enough until now, when we are living chronologically many more years. If we are in fact healthier than we used to be while living longer, than a 65-year-old today is technically “younger” than a 65-year-old in, say, 1988.
We can calculate this “real” age, referred to as “bio-age” (as opposed to “chrono-age”) which could be more representative of how “old” we truly are and how much time we have left, Dr. Karlawish argues. In other words, bio-age is the age that best corresponds to how old our organs are and the time to when a healthy organ will become impaired.
Research published in the April 2018 issue of Demography shows that our bio-age has been decreasing. As our bio-age decreases (our organs stay healthy longer), our chronological age increases. This could mean that using a measure of our bio-age to plan our lives and social policies such as retirement might be more sensible than counting our years spinning around the sun, according to Dr. Karlawish.
Morgan Levine from Yale University and Eileen Crimmins from the University of Southern California plugged measures taken from six physiological systems together with a person’s chronological age, into the Klemera and Doubal algorithm and calculated the “bio-age.”
The approach Levine and Crimmins used is significant due to the simplicity of gathering routine test results into a formula that can compute this bio-age, which previously could have taken months.
With bio-age now so easily accessible, just as chrono-age once organized our lives, bio-age will transform how we think of ourselves and the ways we ought to live.
Bio-age is worth celebrating because it provides an accessible set of actions we can take to be “younger,” such as exercise and a healthy diet. As bio-age gains more prominence, the social structures set up around chrono-age such as retiring will seem less and less sensible.
For the complete column in Forbes, please click here.