Last night I had a chance to catch up on a “60 Minutes” segment that I hadn’t seen before. In it, correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on a group of people in a retirement community near Los Angeles, California who have lived to at least the age of 90. This group of people is part of what is described as “the oldest old.” This age group hasn’t been studied by researchers much previously. Instead, researchers assumed that what worked for people in their 50s and 60s would continue to work when – and if -- they reached their 90s.
The retirement community, which is called Laguna Woods and which has become its own city, has resulted in a treasure trove of data. Residents were asked to complete surveys about their diet, exercise, vitamins and activities starting in 1981. The total number of participants who answered the survey totaled around 14,000. Of those, more than 1,600 were found when University of California, Irvine researchers went looking for this group starting around 2003.
The researchers, who are part of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders and who received a National Institutes of Health grant to support their study, now are delving into this treasure trove of data to try to identify key points about this group. In addition, these researchers are assessing the study participants every six months to gauge their physical and mental ability, including testing their balance, reflexes and walking. The researchers also asked the study participants to donate their brains to the UCI lab when they die.
There were many fascinating findings that have emerged from this study thus far. These include:
- Participants who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than people who didn’t consume any of these beverages. Consuming up to two alcoholic drinks a day resulted in a 10-15 percent lower risk of death when compared to teetotalers. Interestingly, it didn’t matter if the participants drank red wine or another type of alcoholic beverage.
- Participants who smoked died earlier than those who didn’t smoke.
- Participants who exercised lived longer than those who didn’t get any physical activity. The optimal amount of exercise was found to be 45 minutes a day, which could be done during different chunks of time during the day. However, 15 minutes of exercise daily was found to make a difference in the longevity of these participants.
- Participants who were overweight in their 70s actually lived longer than people who at that age were underweight or had a normal weight.
- Taking vitamin supplements didn’t make a difference in the participants’ longevity.
- For every hour spent doing activities such as participating in book groups, board games and socializing in 1981, the participants increased their longevity. The benefit of participating in these activities never leveled off.
- More than 40 percent of study participants who are 90 years of age and above have some form of dementia. The majority of these people are women.
- More than 80 percent of participants who were 90 years of age or above were disabled. Again, the researchers found that the majority of these participants were women.
- Almost half of the participants who had dementia who were over the age of 90 didn’t have sufficient nerve damage in their brains that would explain why they were losing their mental function.
- Participants who were 90 years of age and older who had the APOE2 gene were more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathy (such as the brain tangles) in their brains. However, they were less likely to be diagnosed with clinical Alzheimer’s dementia.
So what lessons can be learned here that menopausal women can apply to their own lives so they can have long and quality lives? Obviously, some of the recommendations echo previous knowledge and are really important lifestyle choices that women should consider adopting as soon as possible, such as exercising regularly and stopping smoking. Other lessons are still hazy and additional research needs to be done to clarify some of the initial findings. Still, this is an exciting study that may provide a bounty of knowledge about the aging process that we can use to make our own lives better.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Stahl, L. (2014). Living to 90 and beyond. CBS News’ 60 Minutes.
Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders. (ND). The 90+ study. University of California, Irvine.
Published On: September 01, 2014