01 March, 2008

Scientific Revelation: Age Related Decline Is Not Inevitable

A Dutch woman decided to will her body to science when she was 82 years old. When she turned 111, she contacted the researchers, worried that she was too old to be of interest to them. On the contrary, they assured her, because of her age, they were especially interested in her.

Over the next four years, she submitted to testing twice. The results showed her to be above average, even for people aged 60 to 80 years of age. There were essentially no signs of cognitive decline or memory loss.

Gert Holstege, a neuroscientist at the University Medical Center Groningen, in The Netherlands examined her body after she died at 115 years of age. The results are reported in the August issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

To the surprise of the examiners, the woman’s brain showed no sign of Alzheimer’s. They found no signs of atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries. Very few brain abnormalities were evident. almost no deposits of so-called beta-amyloid, which are characteristic in Alzheimer's brains. Other abnormalities present, including "neurofibrillary tangles," were too mild to cause significant mental impairment. In fact, the number of brain cells she retained was similar to that expected in healthy people between 60 and 80 years old.

Scientists were amazed at these findings, because they showed that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not inevitable as people age.

On the Spanish island of Minorca, a man recently died at the age of 114. Reports speak of him riding his bicycle to tend to the family’s orchards until he was 102. He is survived by a brother, who is 101, a nephew who is 85, and two daughters, aged 81 and 77. All seem to live an active health-filled lifestyle.

Scientists tested the family’s DNA for two markers associated with healthy bones and longevity. The markers were not found. Gil Atzmon, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York informs us that some 10 to 20 genes have been identified as related to longevity thus far.

These findings lead scientists to believe that longevity may be more complicated than a single gene, or group of genes.

As of yet, no particular diet or lifestyle has a proven association with longevity. Yet some clues have been uncovered that point us in the direction of factors which can contribute to a longer, healthier life.

In the 1930's, Cornell University researchers found that rats fed a lower calorie diet than their litter mates lived 40 percent longer. The increased life span occurred regardless of the age of the rats at the time of their diet change.

A mother’s nutrition while she is pregnant and nursing can have a profound effect on her offspring’s life span. Scientists at Cambridge University in England found that mice fed a high protein diet during pregnancy and a low protein diet while nursing had pups that lived fifty percent longer than those whose diets were reversed.

Happily married couples tend to live longer, claims a study from the University of Chicago. Linda Waite reported that married men were found to live, on average, 10 years longer than non-married men, and married women lived about four years longer than non-married woman.

A May 2, 2006 article in the American Journal of Medicine reports that walking is a factor in health and longevity. In their study, patients in their 70's who were in good health were challenged to walk a quarter mile. Those who completed the course were more likely to survive the next six years without disability. Those who walked slower were at higher risk of death and disability than the faster walkers, but still ahead of those who could not finish.

As a matter of fact, additional studies show that walking or other exercise three or more times a week is a hedge against Alzheimer’s.

Staying mentally and physically active throughout life is the best way to keep the mind sharp.
Individuals with high mental stimulation had a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia by nearly half by building and maintaining a reserve of stimulation. Another study showed that after five weeks of memory-based exercise, participants increased brain chemistry markers in a direction that was opposite to that seen in Alzheimer's. The change was concentrated in the hippocampus, one of the first brain regions to be affected in dementia.

Currently, there are more than 80,000 Americans 100 years of age or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is expected to rise to more than 580,000 centenarians by 2040. The hope is that these centenarians might live long, healthy, and happy lives.