July 14, 2021

Study of those over 90 has some surprising findings

Which Canadian age group would you say is growing the fastest? Millennials? Baby Boomers? Good guesses, but it turns out that it’s those who are celebrating 100 or more birthdays who claim that honour, according to the Toronto Star.

It’s not just centenarians who are living longer though. Statistics Canada estimates that in 2020, there were a total of 334,586 Canadians age 90 and over, an increase of 13 per cent from 2016.

What is their secret to longevity? Since 2003, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, have been working on just that. In one of the largest longitudinal studies in the world, the 90+ Study has more than 1,600 American participants who are over 90 years of age. Every six months, study investigators visit participants, giving them a series of neurological, neuropsychological and physical tests. Researchers also collect information on diet, exercise, social networks, activities, medical history and medications.

The main goal of the study is to determine the factors associated with participants’ longevity, including lifestyle and genetic influences that may contribute not just to a long life, but a good quality of long life.

The 90+ Study is also looking at how cognitive and functional decline affects participants in different ways, trying to identify the components of a dementia-free existence into our 90s. Can we alter our risk for dementia through specific lifestyle changes, and how much of a role do genetics play?

Participants who pass away during the study are allowing scientists to study the pathology of their brains in the hope of identifying differences in the brains of people who exhibit dementia.

Here are some of the current—and sometimes surprising—findings:

  • People who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained.
  • People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did.
  • Hypertension was related to a reduced risk of dementia. Researchers aren’t sure why but theorize that higher blood pressure may be required to maintain adequate blood flow and oxygenation to the brain.
  • About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.

There is so much to learn from this age group, said Claudia Kawos, co-principal investigator of the study, in an interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes program. And there is an even more important reason to continue the research, she explained: “Half of all children born today in the United States and Europe will live until 103 or 104 years.”


This article is presented by Chartwell Retirement Residences. To learn more about the lifestyle in a retirement community and how it can make your life—or that of a loved one—better, visit chartwell.com today.