Arguing Semantics in the Matter of Normal Aging

Researchers here complain about the term "normal aging", suggesting that it is misleading. There is certainly no shortage of problematic language in the description of aging. "Healthy aging" is a contradiction in terms that is widely used to justify a focus on marginal therapies that cannot even in principle achieve rejuvenation, for example. Does it help progress for language to be aligned with goals? Likely, though perhaps only in the longer term. It is clear that a good portion of the research community is already interested in treating aging as a medical condition, regardless of the language used - but more widespread interest in that goal is always better!

Everyone increases in chronological age once a year, which is considered a normal event and celebrated (or not) on a regular basis. But is there such a thing as normal aging? Normal aging is a descriptive term used frequently in published scientific literature to indicate processes and pathways that similarly change with increasing age in a majority of the population in the absence of overt disease. However, if we take a look beneath the surface, deep into pathological changes that occur in cells with increasing age, nothing appears normal. And in fact, changes become more abnormal with increasing chronological age. So-called "normal" histological changes are considered lesions because they are different from the histology seen at younger ages. Is there such a thing as a normal lesion? We think not, even though many pathologists view the presence of age-related lesions as a normal occurrence for older age groups.

The point of this brief discourse is to provide a convincing argument that the term "normal aging" should not be used because it is scientifically incorrect. Aging consists of abnormal changes that occur over time and in varying degrees in every living creature. In human aging, we know that some individuals are more resilient, so maintain a physically and mentally fit condition with increasing age, while others are less resilient and become increasingly compromised with increasing age. There is thus a tendency to label resilience to aging as normal aging and lack of resilience as abnormal aging. Again, this description lacks scientific merit because changes are still occurring in both resilient and non-resilient groups, but in relative degrees.

Thus, "resilient" aging would be a more correct term to represent a major emphasis on investigating mechanisms and therapeutic targets for resilience, rather than a label of "normal" aging that is misleading and currently receives relatively little attention.


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