Understanding aging and its social consequences
Since 1840, life expectancies have risen two-and-a-half years per decade in every country that maintains records. If this trend continues, many children born today have a good chance of celebrating their one-hundredth birthday. The Max-Planck Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging investigates questions related to this massive social change.
In an interdisciplinary team scientists of the Max Planck Society and the University of Southern Denmark are investigating why life expectancy is climbing, why health in old age continues to improve and what the related consequences are. “A longer lifespan in good health means more opportunities for every individual, but at the same time presents immense challenges to society and the economy. To meet them, we must significantly broaden our knowledge of aging. For this reason, the new Center is bringing together prominent scientists from various fields”, explains Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society.
The field of biodemography, still relatively new, researches the relationships between factors that determine mortality and fertility of individual species, such as genetic disposition, environmental influences, or random variations in birth and mortality rates. Data on human and non-human species will be gathered in this process and, with the help of demographic models, more accurately define those evolutionary regularities that can accelerate or slow aging. “Biodemography offers new approaches for finding answers to important questions that similarly confront science and society. The question, for example, of what our health will be like as we grow increasingly older”, says James W. Vaupel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock and head of the Center in Odense. The Institute of Biology and the Institute of Public Health - Epidemiology of the University of Southern Denmark are the primary partner in the collaboration.
The interdisciplinary character of the research field will result in scientists from completely different fields, such as demography, evolutionary biology, epidemiology, and mathematics, collaborating in four research areas at the Center. The area of Human Longevity is concerned with the advancement of life expectancy, with the Unit on Medical Demography querying the extent to which longer lifespan is associated with generally improved health even with increased age, and which factors influence age- and gender-specific mortality. In addition to other activities, the area of Forecasting and Policy involves developing more accurate methods for better predicting improvements to health and longevity so that government, society and business can develop more precise responses. In a fourth area – the Unit on Evolutionary Biodemography – researchers are concerned with questions about underlying environmental parameters and evolutionary selection mechanisms that influence aging in different species. The goal in this case as well is to delineate the underlying regularities in mathematical models.