AskDefine | Define aging

Dictionary Definition

aging adj : growing old [syn: ageing, senescent]


1 the organic process of growing older and showing the effects of increasing age [syn: ageing, senescence]
2 acquiring desirable qualities by being left undisturbed for some time [syn: ripening, ageing]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. present participle of age


  1. The process of becoming older or more mature.
  2. Allowing something to become older.
    The owner asked the clerk to age some big bills that were due.
  3. The deliberate act of making something (such as an antique) appear older than it is.
  4. In the context of "gerontology": Becoming senescent; accumulating damage to macromolecules, cells, tissues and organs with the passage of time


the process of becoming older or more mature
  • Finnish: vanheneminen, ikääntyminen
the deliberate act of making something (such as an antique) appear older than it is
becoming senescent


  1. Becoming elderly.
    The aging artist could no longer steadily hold the brush.

Usage notes

  • Comparative and superlative forms are rare.


becoming elderly
  • Finnish: vanheneva, ikääntyvä
  • Korean: 노화

Extensive Definition

Ageing or aging (American English) is the accumulation of changes in an organism or object over time. Ageing in humans refers to a multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social change. Some dimensions of ageing grow and expand over time, while others decline. Reaction time, for example, may slow with age, while knowledge of world events and wisdom may expand. Research shows that even late in life potential exists for physical, mental, and social growth and development. Ageing is an important part of all human societies reflecting the biological changes that occur, but also reflecting cultural and societal conventions. Age is usually measured in full years — and months for young children. A person's birthday is often an important event.
The term "ageing" is somewhat ambiguous. Distinctions may be made between "universal ageing" (age changes that all people share) and "probabilistic ageing" (age changes that may happen to some, but not all people as they grow older, such as the onset of Type Two diabetes). Chronological ageing, referring to how old a person is, is arguably the most straightforward definition of ageing and may be distinguished from "social ageing" (society's expectations of how people should act as they grow older) and "biological ageing" (an organism's physical state as it ages). There is also a distinction between "proximal ageing" (age-based effects that come about because of factors in the recent past) and "distal ageing" (age-based differences that can be traced back to a cause early in person's life, such as childhood poliomyelitis)..
In humans and other animals, cellular senescence has been attributed to the shortening of telomeres with each cell cycle; when telomeres become too short, the cells die. The length of telomeres is therefore the "molecular clock," predicted by Hayflick. Telomere length is maintained in immortal cells (e.g. germ cells and keratinocyte stem cells, but not other skin cell types) by the enzyme telomerase. In the laboratory, mortal cell lines can be immortalized by the activation of their telomerase gene, present in all cells but active in few cell types. Cancerous cells must become immortal to multiply without limit. This important step towards carcinogenesis implies, in 85% of cancers, the reactivation of their telomerase gene by mutation. Since this mutation is rare, the telomere "clock" can be seen as a protective mechanism against cancer .
Other genes are known to affect the aging process, the sirtuin family of genes have been shown to have a significant effect on the lifespan of yeast and nematodes. Over-expression of the RAS2 gene increases lifespan in yeast substantially.
In addition to genetic ties to lifespan, diet has been shown to substantially affect lifespan in many animals. Specifically, caloric restriction (that is, restricting calories to 30-50% less than an ad libitum animal would consume, while still maintaining proper nutrient intake), has been shown to increase lifespan in mice up to 50%. Caloric restriction works on many other species beyond mice (including species as diverse as yeast and Drosophila), and appears (though the data is not conclusive) to increase lifespan in primates according to a study done on Rhesus monkeys at the National Institute of Health (US). Since, at the molecular level, age is counted not as time but as the number of cell doublings, this effect of calorie reduction could be mediated by the slowing of cellular growth and, therefore, the lengthening of the time between cell divisions.
Drug companies are currently searching for ways to mimic the lifespan-extending effects of caloric restriction without having to severely reduce food consumption.

Dividing the lifespan

A human life is often divided into various ages. Historically, the lifespan of man was divided into seven ages; because biological changes are slow moving and vary from person to person, arbitrary dates are usually set to mark periods of human life. In some cultures the divisions given below are quite varied.
In the USA, adulthood legally begins at the age of eighteen or nineteen, while old age is considered to begin at the age of legal retirement (approximately 65).
Ages can also be divided by decade:
  • Denarian: someone between 10 and 19 years of age
  • Vicenarian: someone between 20 and 29 years of age
  • Tricenarian: someone between 30 and 39 years of age
  • Quadragenarian: someone between 40 and 49 years of age
  • Quinquagenarian: someone between 50 and 59 years of age
  • Sexagenarian: someone between 60 and 69 years of age
  • Septuagenarian: someone between 70 and 79 years of age
  • Octogenarian: someone between 80 and 89 years of age
  • Nonagenarian: someone between 90 and 99 years of age
  • Centenarian: someone over 100 years of age
  • Supercentenarian: someone over 110 years of age

Cultural variations

In some cultures (for example Serbian and Russian) there are two ways to express age: by counting years with or without including current year. For example, it could be said about the same person that he is twenty years old or that he is in twenty-first year of his life. In Russian the former expression is generally used, the latter one has restricted usage: it is used for age of a deceased person in obituaries and for age of a child when it is desired to show him/her older than he/she is. (It seems that a boy in his 4th year is older than one who is 3 years old.)
Considerable numbers of cultures have less of a problem with age compared with what has been described above, and it is seen as an important status to reach stages in life, rather than defined numerical ages. Advanced age is given more respect and status.
East Asian age reckoning is different from that found in Western culture. Traditional Chinese culture uses a different aging method, called Xusui (虛歲) with respect to common aging which is called Zhousui (周歲). In the Xusui method, people are born at age 1, not age 0.



There are variations in many countries as to what age a person legally becomes an adult.
Most legal systems define a specific age for when an individual is allowed or obliged to do something. These ages include voting age, drinking age, age of consent, age of majority, age of criminal responsibility, marriageable age, age where one can hold public office, and mandatory retirement age. Admission to a movie for instance, may depend on age according to a motion picture rating system. A bus fare might be discounted for the young or old.
Similarly in many countries in jurisprudence, the defense of infancy is a form of defense by which a defendant argues that, at the time a law was broken, they were not liable for their actions, and thus should not be held liable for a crime. Many courts recognize that defendants who are considered to be juveniles may avoid criminal prosecution on account of their age.

Economics and marketing

The economics of aging are also of great import. Children and teenagers have little money of their own, but most of it is available for buying consumer goods. They also have considerable impact on how their parents spend money.
Young adults are an even more valuable cohort. They often have jobs with few responsibilities such as a mortgage or children. They do not yet have set buying habits and are more open to new products.
The young are thus the central target of marketers. Television is programmed to attract the range of 15 to 35 year olds. Movies are also built around appealing to the young.

Health care demand

Many societies in the rich world, e.g. Western Europe and Japan, have aging populations. While the effects on society are complex, there is a concern about the impact on health care demand. The large number of suggestions in the literature for specific interventions to cope with the expected increase in demand for long-term care in aging societies can be organized under four headings: improve system performance; redesign service delivery; support informal caregivers; and shift demographic parameters.
However, the annual growth in national health spending is not mainly due to increasing demand from aging populations, but rather has been driven by rising incomes, costly new medical technology, a shortage of health care workers and informational asymmetries between providers and patients.
Even so, it has been estimated that population aging only explains 0.2 percentage points of the annual growth rate in medical spending of 4.3 percent since 1970. In addition, certain reforms to Medicare decreased elderly spending on home health care by 12.5 percent per year between 1996 and 2000. This would suggest that the impact of aging populations on health care costs is not inevitable.

Impact on Prisons

As of July 2007, medical costs for a typical inmate might run an agency around $33 per day, while costs for an aging inmate could run upwards of $100. Most DOCs report spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on elderly care. That is expected to rise over the next 10-20 years. Some states have talked about releasing aging inmates early.

Cognitive effects

Steady decline in many cognitive processes are seen across the lifespan, starting in one's thirties. Research has focused in particular on memory and aging, and has found decline in many types of memory with aging, but not in semantic memory or general knowledge such as vocabulary definitions, which typically increases or remains steady. Early studies on changes in cognition with age generally found declines in intelligence in the elderly, but studies were cross-sectional rather than longitudinal and thus results may be an artefact of cohort rather than a true example of decline. Intelligence may decline with age, though the rate may vary depending on the type, and may in fact remain steady throughout most of the lifespan, dropping suddenly only as people near the end of their lives. Individual variations in rate of cognitive decline may therefore be explained in terms of people having different lengths of life.

Coping and well-being

Psychologists have examined coping skills in the elderly. Various factors, such as social support, religion and spirituality, active engagement with life and having an internal locus of control have been proposed as being beneficial in helping people to cope with stressful life events in later life. Social support and personal control are possibly the two most important factors that predict well-being, morbidity and mortality in adults. Other factors that may link to well-being and quality of life in the elderly include social relationships (possibly relationships with pets as well as humans), and health.
Individuals in different wings in the same retirement home have demonstrated a lower risk of mortality and higher alertness and self-rated health in the wing where residents had greater control over their environment, though personal control may have less impact on specific measures of health.


Religion has been an important factor used by the elderly in coping with the demands of later life, and appears more often than other forms of coping later in life. Religious commitment may also be associated with reduced mortality, though religiosity is a multidimensional variable; while participation in religious activities in the sense of participation in formal and organized rituals may decline, it may become a more informal, but still important aspect of life such as through personal or private prayer.

Self-rated health

Self-ratings of health, the beliefs in one's own health as excellent, fair or poor, has been correlated with well-being and mortality in the elderly; positive ratings are linked to high well-being and reduced mortality. Various reasons have been proposed for this association; people who are objectively healthy may naturally rate their health better than that of their ill counterparts, though this link has been observed even in studies which have controlled for socioeconomic status, psychological functioning and health status. This finding is generally stronger for men than women,

Societal impact

Societal aging refers to the demographic aging of populations and societies. Cultural differences in attitudes to aging have been studied.

Emotional improvement

Given the physical and cognitive declines seen in aging, a surprising finding is that emotional experience improves with age. Older adults are better at regulating their emotions and experience negative affect less frequently than younger adults and show a positivity effect in their attention and memory. The emotional improvements show up in longitudinal studies as well as in cross-sectional studies, and so cannot be entirely due to only the happier individuals surviving.


The concept of successful aging can be traced back to the 1950s, and popularised in the 1980s. Previous research into aging exaggerated the extent to which health disabilities, such as diabetes or osteoporosis, could be attributed exclusively to age, and research in gerontology exaggerated the homogeneity of samples of elderly people.
Successful aging consists of three components:
  1. Low probability of disease or disability;
  2. High cognitive and physical function capacity;
  3. Active engagement with life.
A greater number of people self-report successful aging than those that strictly meet these criteria. The terms "healthy aging"
% of dead yeast cells % of live cells (with the "elixir of life")

Measure of age

The normal point of time from where to measure the age of a human being is from birth. Age in prenatal development is normally measured in gestational age, taking the last menstruation of the woman as a point of beginning. Alternatively, fertilization age, beginning from fertilization can be taken.
Age is often rounded downward to an integer, where the time of birth is taken to have been 0:00 (in other words, the number of days is first rounded upward, before rounding downward to whole years). Thus the age range 4-11 is until the 12th birthday.



  • Bass, S.A. (2006). Gerontological Theory: The Search for the Holy Grail. The Gerontologist, 46, 139-144.
  • Bath, P.A. (2003). Differences between older men and woman in the Self-Rated Health/ Mortality Relationship. The Gerontologist, 43 387-94
  • Charles, S.T., Reynolds, C.A., & Gatz, M. (2001). Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 136-151.
  • Fentleman, D.L., Smith, J. & Peterson, J. (1990). Successful aging in a postretirement society. In P.B. Baltes and M.M. Baltes (Eds.).Successful aging: Perspectives from the Behavioural Sciences. pp50-93
  • Mather, M., & Carstensen, L. L. (2005). Aging and motivated cognition: The positivity effect in attention and memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9, 496-502. PDF
  • Masoro E.J. & Austad S.N.. (eds.): Handbook of the Biology of Aging, Sixth Edition. Academic Press. San Diego, CA, USA, 2006. ISBN 0-12-088387-2
  • Moody, Harry R. Aging: Concepts and Controversies. 5th ed. California: Pine Forge Press, 2006.
  • Rowe, J.D. & Kahn, R.L. (1987). Human aging: Usual and successful. Science, 237, 143-149
  • Rowe, J.D. & Kahn, R.L.(1997). Successful aging. The Gerontologist, 37 (4) 433-40
  • Strawbridge, W.J., Wallhagen, M.I. & Cohen, R.D. (2002). Successful aging and well-being: Self-rated compared with Rowe and Kahn. The Gerontologist, 42, (6)
  • Zacks, R.T., Hasher, L., & Li, K.Z.H. (2000). Human memory. In F.I.M. Craik & T.A. Salthouse (Eds.), The Handbook of Aging and Cognition (pp. 293-357). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

External links

aging in Arabic: شيخوخة
aging in Bulgarian: Стареене
aging in German: Alterung
aging in French: Vieillissement
aging in Hebrew: הזדקנות
aging in Dutch: Veroudering (mens)
aging in Japanese: エイジング
aging in Portuguese: Envelhecimento
aging in Russian: Старение человека
aging in Swedish: åldrande
aging in Tamil: முதுமைப்படுதல்
aging in Thai: อายุ
aging in Ukrainian: Старіння людини
aging in Chinese: 老化
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