Written by Mason Basler, BS candidate in biochemistry, Rockhurst University; participant in the Summer Research Program,- Aging and Neurological Diseases Track
During the online summer internship in aging and neurological conditions, I attended an online presentation given by Brian Carpenter, PhD, who is a professor and researcher of psychological and brain sciences. During this presentation, I was constantly shocked at different facts presented about the overall process of aging. One thing that I think caused this was that I had the bias that I believe many others in our world do: that only old people age.
However, with every breath that we take, we too are aging. While there are so many things that affect this universal aging process that everyone on planet Earth experiences, one of the biggest factors in aging and life expectancy is location. As presented by Dr. Carpenter, even differences in neighboring zip codes can cause such a difference in life expectancy. For example, the life expectancy in St. Louis zip code 63109 is 81, while in 63106 it is 67. This huge difference in life expectancy, not only shocked me, but also intrigued me to analyze why there is such a vast difference.
Another factor that can drastically affect our natural aging process is disease. Of the numerous types of diseases that can affect aging, dementia was one that most interested me, mostly because many of the risk factors for this terrible disease are modifiable. Some of these risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and depression. The two risk factors that are not modifiable are age and family history. To me this shows that even though there are terrible diseases out there that can speed up this aging process, there are still ways in which we can work to prevent the oncoming of these diseases.
One of the last things that I wish to touch on is the happiness that many older people experience, despite a rather negative bias that surrounds not only the idea of aging, but also the idea of being “old.” Many younger people believe in a bias that older people are more depressed and unhappy with their life, however, that is not the case. In fact, 91% of people over the age of 75 claim that they are pretty happy, if not very happy. To me this shows that the process of aging and becoming older is not something that should be feared and seen in a negative spotlight, rather, it is something that we should educate ourselves on and become more familiar with because after all, everyone experiences it and it is not that scary.
This post is part of the Summer Research Program blog series at the Institute for Public Health. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.