Monday, February 09, 2015

Getting to Age 100... How Healthy Are Centenarians in the Years Leading Up to that Milestone?

One of the central concerns people often express about longevity science is the worry that science might just extend the number of years we live in a frail, disabled state at the end of life. Our goal should be to "add life to years, rather than simply adding (unhealthy) years to a long life".

The good news is that an aging intervention would most likely address exactly that concern. The bad news is that the current approach of the biomedical sciences (what I call "negative biology"), by striving to tackle each specific disease of aging, is doing *precisely* what we all don't want- extending the amount of time we live managing multi-morbidity, with diminishing quality of life.

So this study appears to be more good news. It looks at how healthy people who make it to age 100 are. Not surprisingly there is variation. But "positive biology" encourages us to focus on the puzzle of explaining the most exemplary of those with exceptional health in late life (e.g. those individuals who escape/or delay the chronic diseases that ravage most people decades earlier). Here are the results of the study:

As they age to 100, centenarians are generally healthier than nonsurviving members of their cohort, and a number of individuals who become centenarians reach 100 with no self-reported diseases or functional impairments. About 23% of centenarians reached age 100 with no major chronic disease and approximately the same number had no disability (18%). Over half (55%) reached 100 without cognitive impairment. Disease and functioning trajectories of centenarians differ by sex, education, and marital status.