This blog was posted with the kind permission of the BGS Blog Team and
is an extract of a conference report from the British Geriatrics Society Spring 2013 Meeting in Belfast, by Liz Gill, Freelance Journalist.
Research is increasingly suggesting that old age is influenced by conditions and events in early life, a concept supported by data from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, TILDA, which has studied 8,500 people aged 50 and over for the past ten years. behaviour, family background and use of health care. They were then revisited every two years providing a rich set of data involving almost one in every 140 people in Ireland.
The study is already shedding light on the biology of ageing as well as allowing for the rapid transfer of findings into policy. For example, it has unearthed a huge discrepancy between reported health and objective health in conditions such as atrial fibrillation, hypertension, osteoporosis and the risk of polypharmacy, prompting new awareness campaigns.
One of its most interesting findings is the influence of the early years, as Dr Cathal McCrory, TILDA research fellow, explains. “Poor health in childhood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer, lung disease and psychiatric disorders. The lower the social class in childhood the higher the blood pressure and body mass index in adulthood. Parental illness, family dysfunction, neglect, abuse and poverty which probably means poor nutrition and overcrowding, all chip away at physical and mental health. They may even influence the foetus: developing systems may be particularly vulnerable to adversity.”
What happens is that stress hormones are released as a fight or flight reaction to perceived threats increasing blood pressure and heart rate. A young body can cope over a short period but chronic activation can lead to long term problems. “Childhood really is a critical period. The more challenges a child faces the more likelihood he or she is to develop disease later in life.”