Does Telomere Length Indicate Biological, Physical, and Cognitive Health Among Older Adults? Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study

Telomere length (TL) has been suggested as a biomarker that can indicate individual variability in the rate of aging. Yet, it remains unclear whether TL is related to recognized indicators of health in an aging, older nationally representative sample. We examine whether TL is associated with 15 biological, physical, and cognitive markers of health among older adults ages 54+. TL was assayed from saliva using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (T/S ratio) in the 2008 Health and Retirement Study (n = 4,074). We estimated probability of high-risk levels across indictors of health by TL and age-singly and jointly. TL was associated with seven indicators of poor functioning: high-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol, cystatin C, pulse pressure, body mass index, lung function, and walking speed. However, after adjusting for age, associations were substantially attenuated; only associations with cholesterol and lung function remained significant. Additionally, findings show TL did not add to the predictive power of chronological age in predicting poor functioning. While TL may not be a useful clinical marker of functional aging in an older adult population, it may still play an important role in longitudinal studies in young and middle aged populations that attempt to understand aging.