February 11, 2008

Living to Age 100 Becoming Easier

New research shows that even people who develop heart disease or diabetes late in life still have a good chance of living to be 100 years old.

Dr. William Hall of the University of Rochester, who published new research in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, wrote that this increased chance of longevity may be attributed to doctors who aggressively treat elderly health problems, rather than taking an "ageist" approach that assumes they wouldn't benefit.

"It has been generally assumed that living to 100 years of age was limited to those who had not developed chronic illness," Hall told AP.

Through phone interviews and health assessments, researchers at Boston University looked at more than 500 women and 200 men who had reached 100. They found that about two-thirds of them had avoided significant age-related ailments.

The remaining men and women, called "survivors," had been diagnosed with an age-related disease such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, but the study noted that even they had functioned almost just as well as their disease-free peers.

They found that men seemed to be living better overall, as nearly three-fourths of men were capable of bathing and dressing themselves, while only about one-third of the women could. They noted that this may be because men had to be in exceptional condition to reach the century mark.

"Women, on the other hand, may be better physically and socially adept at living with chronic and often disabling conditions," wrote lead author Dr. Dellara Terry and her colleagues.

Among the healthy women in the study is Rosa McGee. At age 104, she has managed to avoid chronic disease, having lived by herself until 2006 when she fell in her St. Louis home.

"My living habits are beautiful," McGee said in an interview at her daughter's Chicago apartment. "I don't take any medicines. I don't smoke and I don't drink. Never did anything like that."

McGee credits her faith in God for her good health. She also gets lots of medical attention - a doctor and nurse make home visits regularly.

Genes surely contributed - McGee's maternal grandparents lived to age 100 and 107. But while genes are important, scientists don't think they tell the whole story about longevity.

But while genes are important, scientists don't think they tell the whole story about longevity.

A second, larger study looked at 2,357 men for about 25 years or until death, starting in their early 70s. Researchers found that those who avoided smoking, obesity, inactivity, diabetes and high blood pressure not only greatly improved their chances of living into their 90s, they had a 54 percent chance of living that long.

Their survival decreased with each risk factor, and those with all five had only a 4 percent chance of living into their 90s, according to Harvard University researchers. About 40 percent survived to at least age 90. Among survivors, 24 percent had none of the five risk factors.

Lead author Dr. Laurel Yates of Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital said that the key is living well.

"It's not just luck, it's not just genetics. ... It's lifestyle," she said.

"It's get your shoes on, get out there, and do some exercise. These are some things you can do" to increase the chances of a long life.

Americans 85 and older are the country's fastest-growing group of older adults, and Hall noted that the U.S. has more than 55,000 centenarians.

He said the new research underscores how important it is for doctors to become adept at treating the oldest of the old, who are "becoming the bread and butter of the clinical practice of internal medicine."


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University of Rochester

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