One hundred year old Maureen Paldo still lives in the same Chicago house that she and her husband bought when they married after World War II. Paldo, widowed for about 30 years, says she still takes care of the stairs, goes for walks as often as possible and loves having visitors.
Her only regret is that she can no longer drive because of poor eyesight, so every Sunday her son takes her to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts – just for the coffee, she insists – where she meets a group friends to socialize.
Paldo is a superger– people aged 80 or over who more closely resemble, mentally and physically, people decades younger. Former President Jimmy Carter, model and actress Iris Apfel and producer Norman Lear are also super-ages. You may know some yourself. But why them, and not the others? Although superagers can function as a family, it can also be quite hit or miss. One sibling may live a long and healthy life while another may die prematurely from illness. We only inherit 50% of our genes from each parent, so even in families with older, healthy parents, superager genes are not a safe bet.
Paldo is participating in a large genetic study of seniors, called SuperAgers Study, to help researchers answer some key questions about lifespan and health span. It could even lead to a longevity pill that could help more of us live longer, healthier lives.
We still don’t really know why some people live to age 9 or tenth decades of life with few physical or cognitive problems, while others show decline much earlier. Although genetics play a role, we are still learning more about all hereditary and natural protective factors, according to Dr. Sofiya Milman, lead researcher of the study and director of human longevity studies at the Research Institute on aging from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. York. SuperAgers all appear to have the APoE2 gene variant, which protects against Alzheimer’s disease or dementiabut this is only a partial explanation.
In one analysis, Milman’s team compared the lifestyle of centenarians to the lifestyle of a general population group of the same birth year. Members of the general population group did not live as long, despite similar rates of tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise.
“What makes the difference?” she asks. “We know enough to know that this is a very valuable group to study, because looking at small groups of super-aged people and centenarians has indicated that there is certainly heritability for healthy aging. health and healthy longevity.”
Health span, not lifespan
But it’s not just a question of lifespan, it’s also a question of health duration– live out your final years with few or no health problems such as heart disease or diabetes. “If people are healthy, independent and cognitively intact at age 90, I think that’s a pretty significant achievement,” Milman says. “We hope to use this information to create therapies based on this biological knowledge.”
For those who did not win the genetic lottery, it may one day be possible to benefit from therapies based on these genetic studies. The ultimate goal, Milman says, is to create therapies that will mimic the beneficial function of these longevity genes and benefit everyone, not just a few.
Milman likens these therapies to those that modulate the biology of people predisposed to high blood pressure or diabetes.
“Some people age more slowly because their pathways are more specific, and others age faster because they have inherited pathways that are not as beneficial for aging,” she says. Manipulation of these biological pathways with drugs, as we do with other age-related diseases, is plausible and biologically and scientifically sound.
Data from this study will be used to create a large biorepository for future researchers interested in studying healthy aging. Researchers aren’t looking to help people live forever or manipulate their genes, but to reduce their risk of developing age-related diseases.
Paldo hopes that his participation in the SuperAger study will help scientists achieve this goal. She attributes her own longevity to both “good genes” and a healthy lifestyle. Growing up during the Depression, she and her siblings lived primarily on home-grown vegetables and fruits.
“I think my secret is hard work. And healthy eating,” she says. However, longevity did not benefit all of his siblings. One sister lived to be 103, but two others died in their 40s from cancer. Paldo has lost contact with several brothers and is unaware of their fate.
“I hope they discover something that will contribute to a long life,” Paldo says. “I mean, I didn’t do anything different. I just followed the program and just tried to be happy.
We’ve long known that Paldo’s approach – eating well, exercising and socializing – are key factors in staying healthy. Lifespan is not only about longevity, but also longevity in good health. “It’s not about living to 120 and having dementia for 40 years. Ultimately, we’re looking for ways to prevent these diseases from occurring,” says Milman.
To truly alleviate the burden on our society and our healthcare system, we need to get to the root of these age-related problems. Many have a common cause, which is aging itself, so it is very important for us to combat the misinformation that is circulating, according to Milman.
She cites advertisements for supplements that claim to help people live longer or prevent memory loss. Many have never been tested in clinical trials proving that this drug or supplement will actually work. “We really need to look for scientifically based evidence. And for most of these things, it just doesn’t exist yet,” she says.
The research team hopes to enroll 10,000 people in the study within two years. The data will be protected and only qualified researchers will have access to it. If you want to know more about the study, you can get tested via the websitewhether or not you have a family history of longevity.