~ Supercentenarians - Who Are They?

Living to be 100 isn’t as rare as it used to be.  It is now supercentenarians—individuals aged 110 and older--who are making headlines.  In the August, 2006 issue of The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Thomas T Perls, MD, MPH of Boston University Medical Center and colleagues report the health characteristics of these long lived individuals, and reveal that a surprisingly substantial portion were still functioning independently at the time of the study.

Dr Perls’ team analyzed 32 individuals between the ages of 110 and 119 who make up half of the supercentenarians living in the United States.  Twenty-seven of the participants were women.  The 119 year old participant was the oldest documented living person in the world at the time of enrollment.

Five subjects were able to function independently, 8 with minimal assistance, and 6 with partial assistance.  Thirteen were classified as very or totally dependent.  One-fourth of the subjects had a history of cancer, all of whom were cured.  Only one participant was diabetic and one had Parkinson’s disease.  Osteoporosis was more common, with 44 percent suffering from the disease, and the majority of the group had experienced cataracts.  A predominant feature was the near-absence of vascular disease.  Only two participants had a history of heart attack, and four had had strokes.  Seven were taking antihypertensive drugs.

The authors observed that the onset of functional decline and age-related disease is delayed among centenarians, and hypothesized that the same delay must be extended at least to the age of 100 to enable a person to reach supercentenarian status.  “By virtue of their likely ability to markedly delay or escape age-related illnesses and frailty and their probable sharing of traits that enable such exceptional survival, supercentenarians are likely to be an important resource for discovering environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors that predispose to longevity and decreased susceptibility to vascular and other lethal diseases associated with aging,” they conclude.

Related Health Concern: Coronary Artery Disease

Atherosclerosis is perhaps the single most deadly disease in the United States, yet there is a good chance that most people, even those at high risk for heart disease, don’t really understand how it develops. The fact is, long before any symptoms are clinically evident, atherosclerosis begins as a malfunction of specialized cells that line our arteries. Called endothelial cells, they are the key to atherosclerosis, and underlying endothelial dysfunction is the central feature of this dreaded disease.

The treatment of atherosclerosis depends on the stage of the disease. Severe disease, in which an artery has significant blockage or unstable plaque deposits, may require intensive care. In most cases, however, less severe disease is treated with a combination of lifestyle changes (including dietary changes) and medication. The following dietary and lifestyle changes have been shown to slow, or even reverse, the effects of atherosclerosis:

  • Reduce dietary saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans-fatty acids.
  • Increase intake of fiber to at least 10 g daily.
  • Consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Ensure adequate intake of folic acid (400 to 1000 mg daily) to reduce homocysteine levels.
  • For obese people, lower weight and increase physical activity to reduce the risk factors for metabolic syndrome and to help control blood pressure and reduce cardiac workload.
  • For people with hypertension, limit sodium intake and maintain adequate intake of potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Stop smoking. This is essential.

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