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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - The Biology of Healthy Aging

Summer 2013

The Biology of Healthy Aging

By: Sara Baker
Date: June 3, 2013

Targeting cellular changes that lead to frailty

Young woman helping an older, frail woman with walker
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Muscle weakness, weight loss, low levels of physical activity, slow walking speed, feelings of fatigue—many view these symptoms as a given part of aging, but they are actually the characteristics of frailty, a common medical syndrome in older adults. Frailty affects women more than men, probably because women tend to have lower muscle mass, and live longer.

The Science of Aging

The faculty and staff in the Biology of Healthy Aging Program, part of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins Bayview, are working to identify ways to successfully treat frailty and improve patients’ quality of life. In fact, researchers have recently identified some very important age-related biological changes, taking place at a cellular level, that trigger inflammatory pathways that likely contribute to frailty.

“We are using these biological discoveries to figure out ways to intervene earlier, and block the biology that contributes to frailty,” says Jeremy Walston, M.D., co-director of the program. Upcoming research trials (see box) will build on the program’s findings to explore the use of a commonly available blood pressure medication to prevent skeletal muscle aging. Other studies will evaluate treatments meant to improve strength, fitness and frailty in older adults.

Making a Difference

Although at present there is no “magic pill” to treat frailty, Dr. Walston stresses the importance of having a discussion with your primary care doctor if you have frailty symptoms. Diagnosing and properly treating other common diseases—like congestive heart failure, diabetes, obesity and hypertension—can improve frailty symptoms.

“For now, the best thing you can do to improve frailty is to increase your activity level,” he says. “Studies in older adults show that it doesn’t help to sit too much.” Working with your physician to safely increase activity levels can have a real impact on overall health and well-being at any age.

Research Opportunities for Older Adults
The Biology of Healthy Aging Program is looking for participants for a number of upcoming research trials to advance the treatment and prevention of frailty:

  • Adults 70 and older are needed for clinical trials studying the effects of vitamin D, as well as a commonly used blood pressure medication, on skeletal muscle aging.
  • Adults 70 and older are needed for a study of how anemia contributes to frailty. The study will examine how anemia treatment impacts strength, fitness and frailty.
  • The program also keeps a registry for adults 70 and older who are interested in being contacted for future research trials.

For more information about the research opportunities available through the Biology of Healthy Aging Program, call 410-550-2113.

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