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The UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village Reveals Several Counterintuitive Things about Longevity and Dementia

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My parents live in this town, which is an entire community of elderly people -- I think you have to be 55 to own a home there -- and the subject of a gigantic study of the "oldest olds" age 90+ run by the University of California at Irvine.

The study has been super fruitful but knowing the community I should note that this is in no way a representative sample of the elderly. The residents of Laguna Woods (aka Leisure World) are overwhelmingly white or Asian, middle to upper-middle income -- very few super wealthy, very few poor -- and perhaps most importantly they are exceptionally independent. This is the slice of the elderly population that is the MOST likely to have taken control of their own retirement, moved out of their hometowns (residents come from all over the country), and do not even seem to require much interaction with their children or grandchildren. I'm just guessing but from my observations I think they are very likely to be significantly healthier than the vast majority of the elderly.

There are several counterintuitive results here. Vitamins bad, alcohol good, overweight good, caffeine good, high blood pressure good after a certain point.

Most important finding was to stay mentally, physically, and socially active. 

But not necessarily with your own family and long-time community! That is an underreported part of this whole study. I think a lot of people romanticize the idea of "aging in place", or dying in the same house you've lived in for your whole adult life while surrounded by your kids and grandkids... but there is starting to be data showing that perhaps the people who choose that life are not the ones who live the longest. It might be better to join a bridge club with other people your age than to fight with your kids or try to guilt your grandkids into looking up from their phones long enough to pay attention to you.

That's a profound thought. 

We must keep finding our tribe as we age, rather than try to force family to serve as our tribe. 

Seriously, look at these longevity findings:

*  Vitamin consumption did not seem to help people live longer, although it may help in other areas, such as preventing fractures, etc. 

*  Drinking a glass or two of alcohol of any type (not just red wine) occasionally (not necessarily daily) seemed to help people live longer.

*  Caffeine from all sources, including soft drinks, chocolate, tea and coffee did make a difference.  People who consumed about 200 mg. of caffeine a day (2-3 cups of coffee) seemed to live longer.  People who consumed too much or too little did not live as long.

*  Being of average weight or heavier seemed to be protective; being too thin was associated with an increased risk of early death.  People who were underweight in their 70's had a 50% increase in their mortality rate.  People who were of normal weight or overweight in their 70's had a 3% lower mortality rate for each year they lived.

*  While having low blood pressure was healthier for younger seniors, having high blood pressure seemed to benefit those who are over the age of 90.

*  It was beneficial to stay mentally, physically and socially active as long as possible.  About 45 minutes a day of physical activity seemed to help people live untill their 90's.  More time spent in exercise did not make a difference.  In addition, the activity did not need to be intense in order to benefit this age group.  It did not have to be jogging and it did not have to be all at once.  It could be broken up into two or three periods of activity a day.

*  As for leisure/social activities, those were also associated with a longer lifespan.

The stuff about being overweight in your 70's is actually a lot more interesting than they made it sound. The issue is that old people start to eat a smaller VARIETY of foods -- just the ones they like, or can easily afford, or that don't take much cooking, etc. -- and the ones who are the most concerned about their weight are probably the worst in this regard. For example I know a couple who were proud of being thin, who every day for lunch shared a can of tomato soup and a bologna sandwich. That did not end well. When you're younger that type of food restriction is associated with weight loss -- most people who keep weight off permanently do so partly by restricting themselves to a smaller variety of foods -- and probably you have a lot of social occasions that help you make up the variety of foods, but apparently when you're over 70 that "healthy" habit starts to turn against you and the people who enjoy eating more start to be the winners of the fitness stakes.

Also one of the findings was that "a glass or two" of boozes are not enough! I think the maximum longevity is associated with people who drink 3 - 4 drinks PER DAY!!! Suck it, moralistic doctors!

I guess a rule of thumb when you're over 70 is to go out of your way to increase the variety of foods you eat. And also to be sure to drink 3-4 drinks per day. That sounds like a fun way to spend your 70s. 😊

The findings on dementia were fascinating, too:

*  There are more than 100 pathologies that can lead to dementia.  Alzheimer's is only one form of dementia, although it is one of the most common.  The more different pathologies you have, the higher your risk of developing dementia.

*  Researchers have long believed that plaques and Amyloid tangles in the brain are related to Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.  However, the brain autopsies that have been completed to date are bringing this into question.  So far, half of the people with dementia had plaques and tangles, while half did not.  In addition, the reverse has also been true.  Half of the people without dementia had plaques and half did not.  Dr. Kawas is now concluding that plaques and Amyloid tangles may not be as closely related to Alzheimers and other forms of dementia as we first thought, although there is still some reason to believe that it does matter.  Researchers are concluding that dementia is more complicated than they first thought.

*  Three or more microinfarcts or mini-strokes in the brain can multiply your chances of having dementia by five times. 

*  Age seems to matter the most in regard to dementia.  By age 85 about 5% have dementia; at 90, 10% of all seniors have dementia; by age 95, 20% have dementia; by 100, 40% have dementia. 

*  Low oxygen levels in the blood, especially below 93%, doubled your chances of developing dementia.

*  Low walking speed resulted in an eleven times great risk of dementia.

*  People with a weak hand grip had a five times greater risk of dementia.

*  High blood pressure and high cholesterol apparently REDUCES your chances of dementia (although these are still related to a higher incidence of heart disease and strokes).  Researchers are now studying whether it is the blood pressure and cholesterol themselves, or if it is the drugs that are given for these illnesses, that provide the protection.

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