Thomas M. Hess, Erica L. O'Brien, and Claire M. Growney
Blood pressure is a frequently used measure in studies of adult development and aging, serving as a biomarker for health, physiological reactivity, and task engagement. Importantly, it has helped elucidate the influence of cardiovascular health on behavioral aspects of the aging process, with research demonstrating the negative effect of chronic high blood pressure on various aspects of cognitive functioning in later life. An important implication of such research is that much of what is considered part and parcel of getting older may actually be reflective of changes in health as opposed to normative aging processes. Research has also demonstrated that situational spikes in blood pressure to emotional stressors (i.e., reactivity) also have implications for health in later life. Although research is still somewhat limited, individual differences in personal traits and living circumstances have been found to moderate the strength of reactive responses, providing promise for the identification of factors that might ameliorate the effects of age-related changes in physiology that lead to normative increases in reactivity. Finally, blood pressure has also been successfully used to assess engagement levels. In this context, recent work on aging has focused on the utility of blood pressure as a reliable indicator of both (a) the costs associated with cognitive engagement and (b) the extent to which variation in these costs might predict both between-individual and age-related normative variation in participation in cognitively demanding—but potentially beneficial—activities. This chapter elaborates on these three approaches and summarizes major research findings along with methodological and interpretational issues.
Dyslexia, or a reading disability, occurs when an individual has great difficulty at the level of word reading and decoding. Comprehension of text, writing, and spelling are also affected. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves the use of reading tests, but the continuum of reading performance means that any cutoff point is arbitrary. The IQ score does not play a role in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The cognitive difficulties of dyslexics include problems with recognizing and manipulating the basic sounds in a language, language memory, and learning the sounds of letters. Dyslexia is a neurological condition with a genetic basis. There are abnormalities in the brains of dyslexic individuals. There are also differences in the electrophysiological and structural characteristics of the brains of dyslexics. Hope for dyslexia involves early detection and intervention and evidence-based instruction.
Stephanie J. Wilson, Alex Woody, and Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser
Inflammatory markers provide invaluable tools for studying health and disease across the lifespan. Inflammation is central to the immune system’s response to infection and wounding; it also can increase in response to psychosocial stress. In addition, depression and physical symptoms such as pain and poor sleep can promote inflammation and, because these factors fuel each other, all contribute synergistically to rising inflammation. With increasing age, persistent exposure to pathogens and stress can induce a chronic proinflammatory state, a process known as inflamm-aging.
Inflammation’s relevance spans the life course, from childhood to adulthood to death. Infection-related inflammation and stress in childhood, and even maternal stress during pregnancy, may presage heightened inflammation and poor health in adulthood. In turn, chronically heightened inflammation in adulthood can foreshadow frailty, functional decline, and the onset of inflammatory diseases in older age.
The most commonly measured inflammatory markers include C-reactive protein (CRP) and proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). These biomarkers are typically measured in serum or plasma through blood draw, which capture current circulating levels of inflammation. Dried blood spots offer a newer, sometimes less expensive collection method but can capture only a limited subset of markers. Due to its notable confounds, salivary sampling cannot be recommended.
Inflammatory markers can be added to a wide range of lifespan developmental designs. Incorporating even a single inflammatory assessment to an existing longitudinal study can allow researchers to examine how developmental profiles and inflammatory status are linked, but repeated assessments must be used to draw conclusions about the associations’ temporal order and developmental changes. Although the various inflammatory indices can fluctuate from day to day, ecological momentary assessment and longitudinal burst studies have not yet incorporated daily inflammation measurement; this represents a promising avenue for future research.
In conclusion, mounting evidence suggests that inflammation affects health and disease across the lifespan and can help to capture how stress “gets under the skin.” Incorporating inflammatory biomarkers into developmental studies stands to enhance our understanding of both inflammation and lifespan development.
Michael J. Lyons, Chandra A. Reynolds, William S. Kremen, and Carol E. Franz
The rapidly increasing number of people age 65 and older around the world has important implications for public health and social policy, making it imperative to understand the factors that influence the aging process. Twin studies can provide information that addresses critical questions about aging. Twin studies capitalize on a naturally occurring experiment in which there are some pairs of individuals who are born together and share 100% of their segregating genes (monozygotic twins) and some pairs that share approximately 50% (dizygotic twins). Twins can shed light on the relative influence of genes and environmental factors on various characteristics at various times during the life course and whether the same or different genetic influences are operating at different times. Twin studies can investigate whether characteristics that co-occur reflect overlapping genetic or environmental determinants. Discordant twin pairs provide an opportunity for a unique and powerful case-control study. There are numerous methodological issues to consider in twin studies of aging, such as the representativeness of twins and the assumption that the environment does not promote greater similarity within monozygotic pairs than dizygotic pairs. Studies of aging using twins may include many different types of measures, such as cognitive, psychosocial, biomarkers, and neuroimaging. Sophisticated statistical techniques have been developed to analyze data from twin studies. Structural equation modeling has proven to be especially useful. Several issues, such as assessing change and dealing with missing data, are particularly salient in studies of aging and there are a number of approaches that have been implemented in twin studies. Twins lend themselves very well to investigating whether genes influence one’s sensitivity to environmental exposures (gene-environment interaction) and whether genes influence the likelihood that an individual will experience certain environmental exposures (gene-environment correlation). Prior to the advent of modern molecular genetics, twin studies were the most important source of information about genetic influences. Dramatic advances in molecular genetic technology hold the promise of providing great insight into genetic influences, but these approaches complement rather than supplant twin studies. Moreover, there is a growing trend toward integrating molecular genetic methods into twin studies.
Determining the mechanisms that underlie neurocognitive aging, such as compensation or dedifferentiation, and facilitating the development of effective strategies for cognitive improvement is essential due to the steadily rising aging population. One approach to study the characteristics of healthy aging comprises the assessment of functional connectivity, delineating markers of age-related neurocognitive plasticity. Functional connectivity paradigms characterize complex one-to-many (or many-to-many) structure–function relations, as higher-level cognitive processes are mediated by the interaction among a number of functionally related neural areas rather than localized to discrete brain regions. Task-related or resting-state interregional correlations of brain activity have been used as reliable indices of functional connectivity, delineating age-related alterations in a number of large-scale brain networks, which subserve attention, working memory, episodic retrieval, and task-switching. Together with behavioral and regional activation studies, connectivity studies and modeling approaches have contributed to our understanding of the mechanisms of age-related reorganization of distributed functional networks; specifically, reduced neural specificity (dedifferentiation) and associated impairment in inhibitory control and compensatory neural recruitment.
Patrick D. Gajewski and Michael Falkenstein
Healthy aging is associated with changes in sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional functions. Such changes depend on various factors. In particular, physical activity not only improves physical and motor but also cognitive and emotional functions. Observational (i.e., associations) and cross-sectional studies generally show a positive effect of regular physical exercise on cognition in older adults. Most longitudinal randomized controlled intervention studies also show positive effects, but the results are inconsistent due to large heterogeneity of methodological setups. Positive changes accompanying physical activity mainly impact executive functions, memory functions, and processing speed. Several factors influence the impact of physical activity on cognition, mainly the type and format of the activity. Strength training and aerobic training yield comparable but also differential benefits, and all should be used in physical activities. Also, a combination of physical activity with cognitive activity appears to enhance its effect on cognition in older age. Hence, such combined training approaches are preferable to homogeneous trainings. Studies of brain physiology changes due to physical activity show general as well as specific effects on certain brain structures and functions, particularly in the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, which are those areas most affected by advanced age. Physical activity also appears to improve cognition in patients with mild cognitive dysfunction and dementia and often ameliorates the disease symptoms. This makes physical training an important intervention for those groups of older people.
Apart from cognition, physical activity leads to improvement of emotional functions. Exercise can lead to improvement of psychological well-being in older adults. Most importantly, exercise appears to reduce symptoms of depression in seniors. In future intervention studies it should be clarified who profits most from physical activity. Further, the conditions that influence the cognitive and emotional benefits older people derive from physical activity should be investigated in more detail. Finally, measures of brain activity that can be easily applied should be included as far as possible.
Idan Shalev and Waylon J. Hastings
Stress is a multistage process during which an organism perceives, interprets, and responds to threatening environmental stimuli. Physiological activity in the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems mediates the biological stress response. Although the stress response is adaptive in the short term, exposure to severe or chronic stressors dysregulates these biological systems, promoting maladaptive physiology and an accelerated aging phenotype, including aging on the cellular level. Two structures implicated in this process of stress and cellular aging are telomeres, whose length progressively decreases with age, and mitochondria, whose respiratory activity becomes increasingly inefficient with advanced age. Stress in its various forms is suggested to influence the maintenance and stability of these structures throughout life. Elucidating the interrelated connection between telomeres and mitochondria and how different types of stressors are influencing these structures to drive the aging process is of great interest. A better understanding of this subject can inform clinical treatments and intervention efforts to reduce (or even reverse) the damaging effects of stress on the aging process.