Slowing Aging America

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

October 25, 2006

As the population rises, so does the amount of elderly people, but one researcher at UVa says growth hormones are the key to keeping this generation active. The older population may be growing, but this new research could keep people feeling younger, even if they aren't getting any younger.

"It's the tiredness, the soreness. I don't deal in pain and my doctor used to laugh [and ask me] what was my level of pain. And I said 'we don't deal with pain. We call it discomfort,'" said senior citizen Berta Hysell.

It's this discomfort, which has millions of Americans becoming less active and more frail.

"I just think how very lucky I am. I'm alive and I didn't have to be," said Hysell, who is an active 70-year-old and the survivor of two car accidents. After one, she had to re-learn how to walk.

While doctors focus on healing, they are now looking at ways they could have prevented the magnitude of the injuries.

"When the stone has fallen down the mountain is very very difficult to push it up, but preventing it's fall down the mountain would be a whole lot easier," said Dr. Michael Thorner, aging specialist.

Researchers are testing a drug that could stimulate hormone growth, which would strengthen muscles. Adults lose about 50 percent of their growth hormones every 7 years.

"What I am interested in is improving the quality of life of elderly people so that they can be independent until the day they drop," Thorner said.

In the study, people grew an average of 1.4 kilograms of muscle in a year while taking the pill and showed specific improvements in the shoulder. This drug may be able to help people like Hysell, but first doctors plan to do more testing.

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