Autistic traits are associated with faster pace of aging: Evidence from the Dunedin study at age 45

Autism Res. 2021 Aug;14(8):1684-1694. doi: 10.1002/aur.2534. Epub 2021 May 27.

Abstract

Growing evidence indicates that the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are distributed throughout the general population; hence, understanding the correlates of aging in people with high autistic traits could shed light on ASD and aging. 915 members of the Dunedin longitudinal birth cohort completed a measure of autistic traits at age 45. A composite measure of the "pace of aging" was derived by tracking the decline in 19 biomarkers across ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 years. Facial age was also assessed. Reports of perceived health were collected from participants themselves, informants, and interviewers. Higher self-reported autistic traits significantly correlated with a faster pace of aging, older facial age, and poorer self-, informant-, and interviewer-rated health. After control for sex, SES and IQ, autistic traits were significantly associated with each variable: pace of aging (β = 0.09), facial age (β = 0.08), self- (β = -0.15), informant (β = -0.12), and interviewer-rated (β = -0.17) health. Autistic traits measured at age 45 are associated with faster aging. Participants with high autistic traits appear to be more vulnerable to poor health outcomes, as previously reported for those clinically diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, autistic traits may have important health implications. Replicating these findings in samples of autistic people is needed to identify the mechanism of their effect on aging and physical health to improve outcomes for those with ASD diagnoses or high autistic traits. LAY SUMMARY: The role that autistic traits have in relation to health outcomes has not been investigated. We looked at how physical health and aging (measured with self-reported questions and decline in multiple biological measures) were related to autistic traits (measured with a questionnaire, at age 45). We found that higher autistic traits were associated with poorer reports of physical health, and a faster pace of aging. This suggests that both those with autism and those with higher autistic traits may be more likely to experience poorer health outcomes.

Keywords: aging; autism spectrum disorder; autistic traits; intelligence; physical health; socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires