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April 1, 1992

Loss of 'Complexity' and AgingPotential Applications of Fractals and Chaos Theory to Senescence

Author Affiliations

From the Gerontology (Dr Lipsitz) and Cardiovascular (Dr Goldberger) Divisions, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Hospital; the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged Research and Training Institute (Dr Lipsitz); and the Division on Aging, Harvard Medical School (Dr Lipsitz), Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1992;267(13):1806-1809. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480130122036

The concept of "complexity," derived from the field of nonlinear dynamics, can be adapted to measure the output of physiologic processes that generate highly variable fluctuations resembling "chaos." We review data suggesting that physiologic aging is associated with a generalized loss of such complexity in the dynamics of healthy organ system function and hypothesize that such loss of complexity leads to an impaired ability to adapt to physiologic stress. This hypothesis is supported by observations showing an age-related loss of complex variability in multiple physiologic processes including cardiovascular control, pulsatile hormone release, and electroencephalographic potentials. If further research supports this hypothesis, measures of complexity based on chaos theory and the related geometric concept of fractals may provide new ways to monitor senescence and test the efficacy of specific interventions to modify the age-related decline in adaptive capacity.

(JAMA. 1992;267:1806-1809)