Scientists in Austria suggest a new definition for old age

Dec. 16, 2013 at 11:16 PM   |   Comments

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LAXENBURG, Austria, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Scientists in Austria suggest a new definition for old age -- not involving chronological age -- but using life expectancy, health and cognitive function.

Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov, population researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, says previously, studies of aging used only one characteristic of people, their chronological age.

Their study provides a framework for measuring aging based instead 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.

"Your true age is not just the number of years you have lived," Scherbov said in a statement. "It also includes characteristics such as health, cognitive function and disability rates."

Demographers have not traditionally used such measures in studies of population and society, instead using age as a proxy for those characteristics. But as lifespans get longer, the same age no longer correlates with the same level of health and other such characteristics, the researchers said.

"We use to consider people old at age 65," Scherbov said. "Today, someone who is 65 may be more like someone who was age 50, 40 to 50 years ago in terms of many important aspects of their lives."

The authors said policy recommendations with respect to aging differ depending on exactly which characteristics of people are measured.

"For different purposes we need different measures. Aging is multidimensional," Scherbov said.

The findings were published in the journal Population and Development Review.

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