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Bauer, Hans; Nowak, Dennis; Herbig, Britta (2018): Aging and Cardiometabolic Risk in European HEMS Pilots: An Assessment of Occupational Old-Age Limits as a Regulatory Risk Management Strategy. In: Risk Analysis, Vol. 38, No. 7: pp. 1332-1347
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Abstract

Old-age limits are imposed in some occupations in an effort to ensure public safety. In aviation, the Age 60 Rule limits permissible flight operations conducted by pilots aged 60 and over. Using a retrospective cohort design, we assessed this rule's validity by comparing age-related change rates of cardiometabolic incapacitation risk markers in European helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) pilots near age 60 with those in younger pilots. Specifically, individual clinical, laboratory, and electrocardiogram (ECG)-based risk markers and an overall cardiovascular event risk score were determined from aeromedical examination records of 66 German, Austrian, Polish, and Czech HEMS pilots (average follow-up 8.52 years). Risk marker change rates were assessed using linear mixed models and generalized additive models. Body mass index increases over time were slower in pilots near age 60 compared to younger pilots, and fasting glucose levels increased only in the latter. Whereas the lipid profile remained unchanged in the latter, it improved in the former. An ECG-based arrhythmia risk marker increased in younger pilots, which persisted in the older pilots. Six-month risk of a fatal cardiovascular event (in or out of cockpit) was estimated between 0% and 0.3%. Between 41% and 95% of risk marker variability was due to unexplained time-stable between-person differences. To conclude, the cardiometabolic risk marker profile of HEMS pilots appears to improve over time in pilots near age 60, compared to younger pilots. Given large stable interindividual differences, we recommend individualized risk assessment of HEMS pilots near age 60 instead of general grounding.