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Aging and the Environment: A Research Framework

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1289/ehp.7569
  • Research
  • Mini-Monograph
  • Biology
  • Communication
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Medicine
  • Pharmacology


The rapid growth in the number of older Americans has many implications for public health, including the need to better understand the risks posed to older adults by environmental exposures. Biologic capacity declines with normal aging; this may be exacerbated in individuals with pre-existing health conditions. This decline can result in compromised pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic responses to environmental exposures encountered in daily activities. In recognition of this issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a research agenda on the environment and older adults. The U.S. EPA proposes to apply an environmental public health paradigm to better understand the relationships between external pollution sources → human exposures → internal dose → early biologic effect → adverse health effects for older adults. The initial challenge will be using information about aging-related changes in exposure, pharmacokinetic, and pharmacodynamic factors to identify susceptible subgroups within the diverse population of older adults. These changes may interact with specific diseases of aging or medications used to treat these conditions. Constructs such as “frailty” may help to capture some of the diversity in the older adult population. Data are needed regarding a) behavior/activity patterns and exposure to the pollutants in the microenvironments of older adults; b) changes in absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion with aging; c) alterations in reserve capacity that alter the body’s ability to compensate for the effects of environmental exposures; and d) strategies for effective communication of risk and risk reduction methods to older individuals and communities. This article summarizes the U.S. EPA’s development of a framework to address and prioritize the exposure, health effects, and risk communications concerns for the U.S. EPA’s evolving research program on older adults as a susceptible subpopulation.

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