Aging in the Information Age

We’re in the information age—and the misinformation age. For consumers of health news—and who isn’t these days?—separating the credible from the baseless can be a challenge. We’re bombarded with the latest research and the newest advice, and virtually all of it has something to do with the thing that concerns us most as we get older: Getting older. It can be confusing and controversial, and this is especially true about developments in the emerging science of healthy aging.

Making sense of it is what this website is all about.

In the process of helping to develop the field now known as Age Management Medicine, Dr. Joseph Raffaele has come to see how developments in the science of aging can be clouded with confusion—not only to the public but even to health professionals and the media who report on it. And how that has sometimes led to misperception and bias. Resistance from traditional medicine is part of it, but so are the 21st Century snake oil salesmen who peddle potions and promises on the internet.

Even credible science can be confounding. There are layers of nuance to many research studies that boil down to this simple fact: Everybody—literally every body—is different. We don’t all age the same way. So the take-home message of a given clinical study can be vastly different from one person to the next. But complexity is, in general, not the popular media’s strongest suit. This isn’t a blanket condemnation, just a heads-up. It’s not uncommon for major news outlets to take the results of the same clinical study and report them differently, depending on whose interpretation they choose to give the greatest weight—and put in the headline. That’s when physicians like Dr. Raffaele get phone calls from baffled patients asking what it means and what they should do about it. His answer, of course, depends on that individual’s particular aging process.

Reporting a study’s conclusions in different ways doesn’t necessarily mean one article or another is inaccurate. But when a news source does get a health story wrong—whether  totally wrong or just enough—the misinformation has a way of gaining a foothold that can be hard to undo. (Not unlike conspiracy theory mythology.) This is especially true when the news concerns an aspect of the age management approach that is controversial. This can translate into reporting that goes so far to the side of caution that it actually skews the truth and does real harm.

In 2002, the media reported widely on the results of the Women’s Health Initiative study assessing the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women. The actual findings were highly nuanced, but the message that went out was anything but: Hormone replacement raises the risk of cancer, said the headlines—HRT IS DEAD. Gynecologists across the country yanked their patients off hormones and stopped prescribing it to newly menopausal women—halting  a practice that had been routine just the week before. Upon closer examination, however, it was apparent  that the broad message didn’t apply to the vast majority of women who would be considering going on hormones. The women in the study were on average much older than those just entering menopause, and so they carried a higher level of risk factors for the adverse events reported. These risk factors  tipped the balance of the risk-benefit equation toward risk—legitimately for older women, but not necessarily for the millions of women thinking about HRT as they entered menopause. But the perception remained: Don’t go on hormones. And it has taken years for that broad and misguided view to be reappraised.

The WHI story may be an extreme example of how media reports that are simplistic, imprecise or otherwise flawed can lead the world astray—and how easily that reporting can be used to further an agenda, even one of good intentions. But it makes clear how much we need voices of reason both inside and outside this fast-developing field.

We make all kinds of cost-benefit decisions every day. How we age is now one of them—and it’s hard to imagine a choice with higher stakes. And therein lies the mission of this website: To be a source of reliable and timely news about developments in the age management arena. To present objective and well-informed assessments of the latest research. And to offer commentary with context—a voice of reason that, we hope, will help demystify this new age in aging.