This commentary calls attention to the value of combining genetic and epidemiologic methods in studies to understand the determinants of two crucial aspects of aging: ages at which certain outcomes (e.g., disease, mortality) occur and rates of change with age of individual's characteristics (e.g., physiologic functions, disease risk factors). Inclusion of age in the specification of traits in genetic epidemiologic studies could lead to improved strategies to increase healthy life expectancy and evaluate individuals' risk for age-related morbidity. Special issues that make genetic epidemiologic approaches important for studies of age-specified phenomena as well as opportunities and challenges for such studies are discussed, including study designs, sampling frames, databases, analytic tools, and related methodological issues. This commentary is based on a report prepared by the Aging and Genetic Epidemiology Working Group, convened by the National Institute on Aging to review opportunities for research on the genetic epidemiology of aging-related outcomes. The report, which contains more extensive discussion, literature review, and references, is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.nih.gov/nia/conferences/GeneticReport111199.htm.
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