Birthdays, our great American tradition for celebrating the achievement of yet another year of life. How old are you? Just count the candles on your birthday cake. But that was then, and this is now. The days of calculating your age, based solely on years, is over. Gerontological science now offers a more complex, interrelated, multidimensional definition of aging.
Read on, and you just might want to start a new birthday tradition of your own. Just five candles on all future birthday cakes. Five candles, each representing one of the five, multifaceted dimensions of your new, authentic age based on today’s gerontological science.
Five Ways to Measure (Calculate) Your Age
- Chronological Age: A count of the total number of birthdays (calendar years) you have accumulated to date. This age is influenced primarily by genetic risk-factors inherited from biological parents.
- Physiological Age: Your current life-expectancy in years as determined by elective health behaviors that, positively or negatively, influence the body’s ability to function properly over time. This age is a measure of one’s wellness status.
- Emotional Age: Your ability to adapt to change and cope with everyday challenges, as compared to others the same chronological age. This age is a measure of the status of psychological hardiness.
- Cognitive Age: An estimate of your skills in memory, learning, thinking and problem-solving, as compared to others the same chronological age. This age is a measure of the status of cognitive functioning.
- Social Age: Describes the types of roles played and social habits performed on a daily basis, as compared to others who are the same chronological age. This age measures the status of your social fitness.
Since we can’t pick our parents, chronological aging is beyond our control. However, the other four are socially determined by adopting healthy lifestyle regimens designed to enhance the chances of living longer (life-expectancy), perhaps as long as 120 years (the maximum possible years the human body is programmed to live).
Demonstrating the existence of a maximum life-span is supported by the longest documented life of the late Jeanne Calment. She learned sword-fighting at age of 85, still rode her bike at age 100, and lived independently until age 113. She lived a total of 122 years, 5 months, and 14 days.To understand how this was possible, it’s important to know the difference between life-span and life-expectancy:
Human life-span (LS)
, the maximum number of years the human body is programmed to live, is currently estimated to be 120 years.
Human life-expectancy (LE)
, the number of years one is expected to live, is currently estimated to be 79 years.
refers to finding ways to close the 41-year gap between LS and LE, allowing humans to live longer, healthier lives.
How can science help humans get back these “lost” 41 years of extra life? The answer lies in studying human aging on two levels: primary aging and secondary aging. Primary aging refers to genetic factors and is associated with your chronological age, while secondary aging refers to lifestyle factors and is associated with the other four types of age. Understanding how both types of aging influence our health-span and life-expectancy will help us live the longest, healthiest lives possible.
is associated with chronological aging, and includes changes with the passage of time. The origin of these changes are not clearly understood or known, however if we are able to control our own primary aging it will redefine our lives as it will allow us to live the maximum possible length of human life, 120 years.
is associated with the other four age measurements of physiological age, emotional age, cognitive age and social age. Secondary aging includes changes with the passage of time, however the origin of these changes are known to be caused from chronic diseases. Control over secondary aging, which will essentially mean eradicating disease, will raise our life-expectancy to 120 years.
How the Five Ages Can Enhance Our Roles as Caregivers
The typical focus on chronological age alone can demonstrate multifaceted problems to the type of care a loved one receives. Take one possible application to family life:
Your widowed grandmother decides to visit for the holidays, and you’re concerned that she continually repeats the same question or statement. Using our five possible measurements for calculating one’s age, we can identify multiple sources of this typical memory problem exhibited by elders who live alone. Appreciating primary aging (disease states) and secondary aging (lifestyle factors) can help assess and evaluate the source or sources of problem behavior, and result in the application of appropriate remedies. Before concluding that grandmother suffers from dementia, consider her living situation as the possible culprit.
People who live alone do not have the opportunity to verbalize their thoughts, no one is available to hear them. They think about, rather than verbalize their concerns (questions, statements). When their social situation changes from solitude to social, they very naturally become confused, “Did I just think that, or did I just say that.” Introducing opportunities to socialize (interaction with others) whether via phone or friendly visitor interfaces should reduce the elder’s confusion between thought and action. Also, meals are best consumed in the company of others, preventing skipped meals that might lead to memory problems manifested by caloric deficiency and malnutrition.
The next time you shake someone’s hand, remember to reserve your initial impression, they like you, also have five ages. The better you get acquainted, the better you understand their “authentic age” and interact with them accordingly.