What We Can Learn From the “Oldest Old”

OAA 2014It is finally the merry month of May and I wanted to wish y’all…a Happy Older American month! Bet you didn’t see that one coming did you? Every year, May is the time we celebrate older Americans and their contributions as well as raise awareness for issues that older folks face. If you ask me we should be doing that every day! This year’s theme for Older American month is “Safe today. Healthy tomorrow.” Basically the choices we make to stay safe (like avoid injury and preventing disease) will help us live healthier at an older age.

With this theme I’d like to bring your attention to the 90+ Study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Irvine (UCI).1 It is one of the few studies out there that focuses on the “oldest old,” what it takes to get there and what it takes to stay there. It also looks at dementia in this age group.

Celebrating your 90th birthday is a commendable feat, which is why there aren’t many people 90+ out there to study. But, it is important to understand this age group because we have a longer life expectancy and there will be more older adults who will reach the 90 year old mark and beyond. In 2010 the US Census Bureaus estimated there was 1.9 million Americans 90-and-older.2 This age group tripled in the last 30 years! Sadly, most people in their 90s had 1 or more disability and required some kind of assistance.2 A study like the 90+ Study could really help us understand how we can reach 90 but stay healthy.

The 90+ Study follows the oldest old and collects data on diet, physical activity, medical history, medications, and so forth. Then it uses this data to understand which factors are associated with living a longer and healthier life free from cognitive decline.1,3

happy 90

So far, the researchers have published several papers and have received more funding to continue this work. Here are some of their key findings:1,3

  • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who did not.
  • People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than those who were normal weight or underweight.
  • More than 40% of people 90 and older suffer from dementia, while almost 80% are disabled. Both conditions are more common in women than men.
  • About half of those over 90 with dementia do not have sufficient Alzheimer’s-related plaque growth in their brains to explain their cognitive loss.
  • Individuals 90 and older who carry the APOE2 gene are less likely to have Alzheimer’s-like dementia but much more likely to have Alzheimer’s-related plaque growth in their brains.
  • Poor physical performance on activities such as walking is associated with increased risk of dementia

I don’t know where you’re from but in North Carolina, my home state, we are ranked #9 for people over the age of 60.4 This number continues to grow every day so I want to do my part in raising awareness for older adults. In the mean time I will continue to update y’all on trailblazing studies like this one. Comment below if any of the 90+ Study findings are intriguing to you.

Happy reading and a toast to all Older Americans out there no matter what age you’re at!

Special Thanks to Trinh Le for her assistance with this post.

Photo Credits

  1. Older American Month Logo: http://www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/images/OAM-logo2014.jpg
  2. Birthday Cake: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_LQnvgKAniIU/S93jquxya-I/AAAAAAAAARI/IksAMHtzoL4/s1600/Black+and+white+90th.jpg

References

  1. http://www.mind.uci.edu/research/90plus-study/#sthash.6IPUkL5J.dpuf
  2. http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-17.pdf
  3. http://news.uci.edu/press-releases/national-institute-on-aging-renews-funding-for-ucis-90-study/
  4. http://www.ncdhhs.gov/aging/oamonth/
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