“The diseases of aging are not inevitable,” geriatrician Linda Fried told a Harvard School of Public Health audience on December 16, 2013. As people live longer around the world—largely due to successes in public health over the past century—understanding the science of healthy aging is imperative, she said. Fried, the dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, delivered the first in a new Centennial Women Leaders in Public Health lecture series organized by the Committee for Advancement of Women Faculty.

People’s health varies widely as they age, Fried said. While some 80-year-olds walk slowly and with difficulty, others remain robustly active. Some elderly adults are able to bounce back from a stressful event such as a hospitalization, while others are thrown into a spiral of increasingly poor health.

Research by Fried and others has provided evidence for the idea that frailty in older adults should be considered a clinical syndrome defined as an “increased state of vulnerability of developing dependency and mortality, particularly following a stressor.” Geriatric health experts at a recent conference recommended that all adults over 70 be screened for the symptoms of frailty, Fried said. These include weight loss, weakness, exhaustion, slowed walking speed, and low activity.

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