Aging vs. Disease: Differences & Examples

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  • 0:01 Aging & Disease
  • 1:18 Primary Aging
  • 2:40 Secondary Aging
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson looks into the differentiation between what is considered normal, or primary, aging and what is considered abnormal, or secondary, aging. In addition, we will look at how an often misunderstood disease fits into this.

Aging & Disease

When it comes to complicated things, sometimes people think they know what they're talking about when they really don't. What I mean is that in our everyday world, we don't need to differentiate between Old-Timers' and Alzheimer's. But for those who do need to know the difference, and for our general knowledge, it is better to understand that there is a difference between aging and disease.

I want to use Alzheimer's here as the main point. So a quick bit of information about Alzheimer's:

  • It is a degenerative mental condition
  • It is caused by a buildup of proteins and degeneration in the brain
  • It is not a normal part of aging

Pretty simple up to this point, right? To make things complicated, we also have changes that occur as we age. There is a slow decline in processing speed and difficulty with forming new memories that is relatively common in older people. With our understanding of Alzheimer's versus getting old, let's look at different types of aging.

Primary Aging

Primary aging is natural and progressive maturation, which is often part of the process of getting older. One way to think about primary aging is that it is expected. As we age, we expect that our bone density will decrease, and our bones will become more brittle. Our muscles will lose strength and be replaced by a fibrous tissue. And certain cognitive changes will occur that aren't exactly thrilling. Even our hair becomes gray.

With primary aging, we kind of know what is coming. With enough research, we can predict what is going to happen to a person. Looking at our main example, primary aging does not include Alzheimer's Disease. More specifically, when it comes to primary aging, we see a slow decline in what is called fluid intelligence, or a person's ability to think laterally and understand new and novel ideas. This is why older people have so much trouble with ever-changing technology. Their brains are preprogrammed to decline, making it difficult to deal with new-fangled phone systems, and unfamiliar touch screens.

But where does Alzheimer's fit into this? To examine that, we have to look at another aging process.

Secondary Aging

Secondary aging is environmental effects and disease. Here, the body, the valiant, and heroic human, succumbs to illness and the environment. Alzheimer's would be part of secondary aging, because it is not a natural part of growing older. In fact, here is a whole list of things that we include under secondary aging:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Injury
  • Chronic diseases
  • Smoking
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of exercise

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