Showing posts with label Dr Kawas research on elderly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr Kawas research on elderly. Show all posts

Friday, October 14, 2022

Update on the 90+ Longevity Study by the University of California - Irvine

If you regularly watch the television show, "60 Minutes," you may have seen one of the stories they have shown about The 90+ Study, an ongoing project lead by Dr. Claudia Kawas, M.D., from the University of California in Irvine. The research was begun in 1981, long before Dr. Kawas was involved, but continues to be handled by her and other researchers at UCI.  Most of the people that were studied over the past 40+ years live in the retirement community of Laguna Woods Village, where the project is still going on today.  Such a long-term study has enabled them to get detailed information about the two separate issues of longevity and how to reduce your risk of dementia, since few people hope to live a long life while suffering from a disease like Alzheimer's. 

Recently, Dr. Claudia Kawas, the current lead researcher on the project, spoke at a Healthy Aging Forum in Laguna Woods Village to bring residents up-to-date on what the researchers have learned.  What she discovered has been fascinating.  As a resident of Laguna Woods, I attended this forum, took photos of her slides, and want to share a bit of her research with my readers.

Longevity Continues to Increase

According to Dr. Kawas, she estimates that one-half of all children born today in developed countries can expect to live to be 100 years old!  She acknowledged the fact that our nation's longevity has dipped the past couple of years because of Covid.  However, she believes that other medical advances will enable us to continue to expand our lifespans.


Who Did the UCI Researchers Study?

The study began in 1981 and between that year and 1985 they enrolled 13,978 senior citizens from the Laguna Woods Village Retirement Community, which was called Leisure World when they started.  Because of the makeup of the residents living in the community at the time, the people who enrolled in the program were primarily white, well-educated, had a median age of 73 at the time, and about two-thirds of them were women.

The researchers continued to follow up with the original enrollees in 1983, 1985, 1992, and 1998.  They have continued to enroll new subjects and study them since that time.  Dr. Kawas announced that 2022 is the last year she plans to enroll new subjects ... so she will eventually be able to retire!  Perhaps another researcher will pick up where she left off but, meanwhile, they have learned a lot about the two separate issues of longevity and dementia!

What Factors Are NOT Associated With Longevity?

The first issue they studied was longevity ... which qualities did or did not seem to help people live longer. 

They studied a number of factors which they thought MIGHT influence how long people would live.  Although these factors might benefit people in other ways, they did NOT help people live longer. Here is the list of factors they studied which did NOT seem to increase longevity:

Vitamin C - either from diet or supplements did not help them live longer

Vitamin A  - either from diet or supplements did not increase longevity

Vitamin E supplements - did not increase lifespan

Calcium consumption in the diet - did not help respondents live longer

Consumption of soft drinks by the elderly - did not affect longevity according to the researchers (which I thought was interesting).

Some of the above factors also surprised Dr. Kawas, because she had expected the vitamins and minerals mentioned above to have an effect on increasing longevity.  Although they might have other benefits, they did not seem to increase how long you would live.  (However, readers may have seen recent research which has shown that the simple act of taking a daily multi-vitamin can dramatically reduce dementia risk, which is discussed later in this post.)

What Factors WERE Associated With Longevity?

The factors below DID seem to increase how long a person would live, and some of these items also surprised Dr. Kawas.

Moderate caffeine consumption from coffee or tea did add to their lifespans.

Moderate alcohol consumption - one small drink a day for women and two for men increased longevity.  People who drank that amount lived longer than people who drank more, or who did not drink alcohol at all.  However, it is possible that the reasons many people do not drink alcohol is because they already have serious health problems or because they did significant damage to their bodies from alcohol abuse early in adulthood.  The researchers did discover that excessive drinking was associated with a shorter lifespan.

A Body Mass Index slightly ABOVE average seemed to improve longevity.  People who were very skinny or very obese did not live as long as people who were of average or slightly above average weight. (Yay for those of us who carry a little extra weight.)

Daily Exercise made a difference.  Those who exercised for 15 minutes a day did better than those who were sedentary.  Those who exercised for 30 minutes lived even longer.  Those who exercised for 45 minutes or more did the best.  However, there was no longevity benefit for those who exercised more than 45 minutes a day.  There is no need to run marathons, unless you simply want to. So take a nice, 45 minute walk every day, and you have a better chance of living to a ripe old age.

Non-exercise activities or participating in hobbies also added to longevity.  The key, however, was that they had to ENJOY the activities. It doesn't help to just force yourself to do things you don't enjoy.

A Positive Attitude is important, too.  Being depressed shortens your lifespan, but being enthusiastic and positive can add to the length of your life.

Who Gets Dementia?

Next, the researchers went on to investigate whether or not their long-lived subjects developed dementia, what physical indications of dementia they could find in their brains, and what lifestyle factors seemed to make a difference in who did and did not develop dementia.


What Assessments Did They Perform on the Study Subjects?

The research they performed over the years on the people enrolled in the program far exceeded simple physical examinations and interviews.  Here are some of the ways the researchers evaluated the participants:

They studied their Medical History;

Performed Neuropsychological Tests on their memory, language ability, and executive function;

Completed both neurological and physical examinations;

Asked the participants to complete detailed questionnaires over the years, covering their diet, lifestyle, amount of exercise they get, activities they participate in, and other factors;

Did genetic studies, including looking at their DNA and cell lines;

Performed various types of brain imaging, including MRIs and PET scans.

In addition, they asked the participants to donate their brains to the researchers, so they could autopsy them and look for various types of pathologies, such as a build-up of amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain, or signs of microinfarcts, white matter disease, hippocampal sclerosis and a disease called LATE, which is when a protein called TDP-43 accumulates in brain cells. 

As you can see, the researchers were very thorough in researching not just how long the people lived, but also the incidence of dementia in this population.  They also learned what behaviors seemed to help prevent or postpone dementia as they aged.

Resilience is a Significant Factor in Preventing Dementia

Dr. Kawas particularly appreciated the people who donated their brains, because she was able to learn so much from them.  Some of the people who never appeared to have dementia while they were alive, had a number of troublesome pathologies in their brain that were only found after they died.  On the other hand, some people who had experienced dementia symptoms while they were alive seemed to have fairly healthy brains.  That was a surprise!

In other words, you do not always have to be a helpless victim of the plaques, tangles and other problems that may exist in your brain.  Some people seem to manage well in old-age, despite how their brain looked when it was autopsied.   Dr. Kawas called this protection against signs of dementia, even in the presence of serious pathologies, resilience.  People who have resilience seem to age better than people without it.


Another Surprising Finding!

Most of us assume that Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia.  However, in her research Dr. Kawas discovered that it only accounts for about 25% of cases of dementia.  Vascular dementia is actually the most common cause, resulting in about 40% of dementia cases.  LATE (which stands for limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy) accounts for around 19% of cases, Lewy Body dementia causes about 5% of cases, and all the other pathologies account for the remaining 11% of cases of dementia.

It is also interesting that people can have MORE than one cause of their dementia at the same time. For example, someone could have both Alzheimer's Disease and vascular dementia at the same time.  Obviously, the more pathologies you have, the more likely you are to have obvious symptoms of dementia while you are alive.


The concern that vascular problems lead to vascular dementia is also why researchers often tell people that activities which help your heart will also lower your dementia risk. If vascular dementia accounts for 40% of dementia cases, then any behaviors which hurt your heart will also increase your risk of developing vascular problems in other parts of your body, especially the brain.  Conversely, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.  Living a heart healthy lifestyle can also improve your brain health. One excellent book you may want to read can be found here:  "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease - The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Research Based Cure"

While I encourage you to read the book, the bottom line is that getting exercise, eating healthy unprocessed foods, following the advice of your cardiologist or internist about taking statins and other heart medicines, getting adequate sleep, continuing to learn new things, AND taking a multi-vitamin can help you postpone or prevent vascular dementia, and may also reduce your risk of some other types of dementia, as well.   

You can also learn more about the 90+ Study at www.90study.org and can look for Dr. Claudia Kawas and the 90+ Study on YouTube.  Their research is fascinating.

Buy this at: etsy.com/shop/DeborahDianGifts

One way I have learned to keep myself mentally sharp and resilient has been by learning new things, writing posts on my blog, setting up an Etsy store and designing products for it. I think that it is important that everyone over the age of 60 continues to have creative and mentally challenging activities in order to remain sharp.  I also take the advice of Dr. Kawas and other researchers by getting regular exercise, sleeping 7+ hours a night, eating healthy foods, taking my prescribed medications and recommended vitamins, and staying active.

You can find gifts for retirees and others at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts, including this necklace that say "She Believed She Could So She Did!"  Makes a great gift!

  http://www.etsy.com/shop/DeborahDianGifts


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Photo credits: Dr. Claudia Kawas at UCI, Amazon book cover, and my Etsy Store