Study May Provide Clues to Human Disability and Longevity

May 2, 2002

WINSTON-SALEM -- In humans, physical performance declines with increasing age. Standardized performance measure scores in non-disabled older persons can predict the incidence of disability and reduced longevity. These assessments provide a method for early identification of conditions that precede the onset of disability and establish a point in time where interventions could be helpful.

The application of such standardized physical performance measures to a variety of animal models of aging may help define similarities between species in the underlying causes of the age-related decline in performance, disability and longevity.

A new study, “Physical Performance and Longevity in Aged Rats,” published in the May issue of Journal of Gerontology, has shown that standardized physical performance measures can be assessed over a period of time in aged rats and can be predictive of longevity. The study was conducted by researchers at the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Forty-eight aged male rats were studied over a period of six months and followed for another three months. The rats were evaluated on three measures: swimming speed, walking speed and their ability to keep themselves from falling from an inclined plane.

“The study found that apparently healthy older rats that demonstrated superior performance on two performance measures also lived longer than rats that hadn’t performed as well,” said Christy Carter, PhD, principal investigator in the study.

Because these aged rats demonstrate similar characteristics to aged human models, these results may provide valuable insights into interventions that may reduce disability and, consequently, increase longevity and quality of life in humans.

“This is an important and encouraging step,” said Dr. Stanley Slater, deputy associate director of the National Institute on Aging’s Geriatrics program, “because if we can identify the predictors of disability in animals with similar characteristics of aging to humans, we may be able to develop ways to prevent or delay decline in physical function and disability in humans.”

“The results of this study may have important implications for preclinical screening of novel drugs aimed to prevent physical function decline and physical disabilities in older persons,” said Marco Pahor, M.D., senior investigator of the study.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers.


Contact: Jonnie Rohrer, 336-716-6972, Mark Wright or Jim Steele, 336-716-4587

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