HEALTH AND AGING TEXTBOOK NOTES
Chapter 1: Introduction and Basic Concepts in Aging
¾ How we age and the rate at which we age are balanced between the resources to which we have access and our
exposure to various toxins, both of which are, in part, reflections of the choices we make.
¾ Psychosocial gerontologists have focused more on describing what happens cognitively, emotionally, and
socially as we age, with a view toward identifying factors that promote positive aging or increase the risk of
¾ Free radicals can accelerate deterioration, but antioxidants may decelerate it.
¾ The last decade or so has seen a heightened interest in optimal aging.
¾ The cholesterol-lowering agents and Viagra are among the most commonly prescribed medications in this
¾ Gerontology is unique among the scientific disciplines in that, since its inception, it has recognized
interdisplinary endeavors are required for understanding the aging process.
¾ Biogerontology has greatly increased our understanding of the genetic and cellular mechanisms of aging, but
the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and anthropology are also essential for understanding both the
processes and ramifications of aging.
¾ Clinicians are not more successful at treating the chronic illnesses of late life, such as cardiovascular disease
and diabetes, leading to rapid demographic increases in the over-85 population.
¾ How we live and the resources we can use profoundly affect the way we age as much, if not more, than out
¾ When does late life begin? There are often inconsistencies, but the consensus is emerging that late life is not at
¾ Different cutoff points have been used, but it is most common to define young-old persons as those between
ages 65 and 79, old-old individuals as those between 80 and 99, and the oldest-old, or centenarians, as those
who are age 100 or older.
¾ Another important distinction is that between age, cohort, and period.
¾ Age refers to the number of years a person has been alive, whereas cohort refers to a group of people who share
the same birth year or sometimes those who shared historical events, such as the World War II generation.
¾ Period refers to the time at which the measurement or assessment occurred.
¾ If a particular phenomenon always changes with age, regardless of cohort or period, then it is an age effect. If
the change is specific to a particular cohort but does not occur in any other group, then it is a cohort effect.
¾ If all cohorts or ages change at a particular point in time, then it is a period effect.
¾ Another important distinction is made between life span and life expectancy.
¾ Life span refers to the absolute length of time a member of a given species may live. In humans, that is currently
¾ Life expectancy refers to the length of time an average member of a particular cohort can expect to live. Life
expectancy refers to the age at which half of a particular cohort will have died.
¾ Age-specific life expectancy refers to the average number of years that members of a given cohort who have
reached a specific age can expect to live.
¾ In nearly every country, women enjoy higher life expectancies than men.
¾ As gerontology and geriatrics focus so much on health, it is important to understand the distinction between
morality, morbidity, and functional health.
¾ Mortality refers to death; morbidity refers to illness.
¾ Mortality rates refer to the number of people who die during a given period of time.
¾ Morbidity rate refers to the prevalence or total number of cases of a specific disease in a population, whereas
the incidence of illness refers to the number of new cases in a year.
¾ Epidemiologists further distinguish between acute and chronic illness.
¾ Acute illnesses are often self-limiting and/or can be successfully treated with medicines, but chronic diseases
are often incurable, and treatment focus is on the management and the delay of disability rather than cure.
¾ The presence of a chronic illness may also reduce the ability to recover from an acute incident.
¾ Acute and chronic illnesses can intertwine to produce a cascade of health problems that can affect the ability to
function in social roles and to care for oneself.
¾ Functional health refers to the ability to perform daily tasks such as shopping, paying bills, preparing meals,
bathing, dressing, eating, etc.