Initiated in 2003, the American Association for the Advancement of Science conducted what’s now known as “The 90+ Study,” a look at commonalities amongst people 90-years old and older. And with more than 1,600 people enrolled and involved, the study had a pretty good sample size to explore the question: What allows people to live to age 90 and beyond?
While the study was officially initiated in 2003, it actually drew on data made available by pulling its participants from the Leisure World Cohort Study (LWCS), which was actually started back in 1981. The LWCS mailed surveys to every resident a large retirement community in Orange County, California known as Leisure World, giving a grand total of 14,000 subjects for researchers to study.
By visiting researchers every six months, neurological and neuropsychological tests helped survey the effects of diet, activities, medical history, and even medications on participants. On top of that, researchers conducted a series of cognitive and physical tests to grade just how well the people in this group are functioning, examining just what their quality of life is as well.
What makes people live to age 90 and beyond? What types of food, activities or lifestyles are associated with living longer? How many people aged 90 and older have dementia? How many become demented each year? What are ways to remain dementia-free into your 90s? How do memory loss and disability affect those in their 90s? How can people prevent memory loss and disability at this age? Do the brains of people in their 90s show evidence of memory loss and dementia? Do people with dementia have differences in their brains that can be detected and treated? Determining Modifiable Risk Factors for Mortality and Dementia: What kinds of things can people change in their lives to live longer? Can people change their risk of dementia through diet, exercise or supplements? These were all the questions researchers set out to answer about the factors that contribute to longevity. And here are the major findings — some of them incredibly interesting and intriguing — about some common traits, habits, and conditions of people who live the longest lives:
-People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained.
-People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did.
-Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80% are disabled. Both are more common in women than in men.
-About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.
-People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s dementia but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains.
Now, while it’d be almost counterintuitive to think drinking alcohol or even being overweight in your 70s boosts longevity, it’s also important to know the sample of people studied were more or less more healthy than the average person to begin with by virtue of the fact that they’d lived into their 90s. But still, something about this group proves that there’s no one obvious trick to finding the fountain of youth.