elderly couple walking with cane through trees on a sunny day

People are Living Longer than Ever Before. Here’s Why.

Did you know that half of all children born today in the US or Europe will live to see their 103rd or 104th birthday? People are living longer and longer, and a research study funded by the National Institute on Aging is researching why. 

The study began in 1981 and still continues today. Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes has been following the study for years, and, on November 22nd, she gave an update on new insights found over the last 6 years since their last check in. Watching the episode inspired me to write this blog and share the findings of this fascinating study.

The goals for the study

  • Determine factors associated with longevity
  • Examine the epidemiology of dementia in the oldest old
  • Examine rates of cognitive and functional decline in the oldest old
  • Examine clinical pathological correlations in the oldest old

In other words, they wanted to answer the questions: what makes people live to age 90+? How many people aged 90 and over have dementia? Do people with dementia have differences in their brains, and is there something we can do in order to decrease the risk of dementia?

Participants are evaluated every 6 months through neurological and neuropsychological tests. When a participant passes away, their brain is studied. 

The findings

  • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained.
  • People who were overweight in their 70’s 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 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. (UCI Mind)

Just from watching the episode and observing the participants that were around 95-103 years old, I was amazed at their physical ability and mental sharpness. A common theme I found in the “oldest old,” as they were referred to in the study, was they were all reasonably active. One woman enjoyed speed walking while a few others were ballroom dancers. Another observation was they were all super positive, happy people. It just shows that a positive lookout on life can do wonders for your health.

What this means for caring for the elderly

Another shocking fact: over the next 30 years the number of Americans aged 90 and above is expected to triple.

Our elderly population is growing rapidly, especially given that people are living longer and longer. It’s important that we start thinking about ways to help these senior citizens age gracefully. CarePenguin helps senior citizens age in place while maintaining their dignity and providing peace of mind to their families. It is now available exclusively on our website here!

Check out the whole 60 minutes segment recap here and read more about the 90+ study here.