Disability Rates May Not Increase With Very Old Age

Life Extension Update Exclusive

August 19, 2008

Disability rates may not increase with very old age

Disability rates may not increase with very old age

A report published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that increasing rates of disability may not be inevitable among the very old, who are the fastest growing population segment in the Western world. In an article entitled, “Exceptional longevity does not result in exceptional levels of disability,” researchers in Denmark and at the Max Planck Institute in Germany conclude that the concern regarding an increased burden of care-giving associated with more people joining the ranks of the very old may be unfounded.

Kaare Christensen at the Danish Aging Research Center at the University of Southern Denmark and colleagues studied 2,262 Danish men and women born in 1905. The subjects were surveyed in 1998, and in 2000, 2003, and 2005 to evaluate physical functioning, cognitive function, and depression levels.

At the beginning of the study, 39 percent of the subjects were classified as independent: defined as being able to perform activities of daily living without assistance and having adequate cognitive function. This percentage declined by an additional 6 percent by 2005 among the 166 surviving participants, an amount considered “modest”.

The authors write that with improved medical treatment and education, as well as a reduction in the number of those who smoke among those entering the oldest-old population, a decrease in disability among this age group can be expected.

“It has been postulated that life extension would provide only increased chances of being frail and existing in a vegetative state, with huge personal and societal costs,” the authors write. “Our study does not support this grim prediction. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the characteristics of a cohort do not change much in an age range from 92 to 100 years in central domains such as physical and cognitive functions and depression symptomatology.”

“Our finding also suggests that individuals who survive into the highest ages have a health profile that is similar in many aspects to that of individuals who are 7 or 8 years younger,” they conclude. “This suggests that most individuals can expect to experience physical decline before they die, but the postponement of this individual decline makes it possible for us to live into the fourth age.”

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The National Academy of Sciences published three reports showing that the effects of aging may be partially reversible with a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid (Hagen et al. 2002). One of these studies showed that supplementation with these two nutrients resulted in a partial reversal of the decline of mitochondrial membrane function while consumption of oxygen significantly increased. This study demonstrated that the combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid improved ambulatory activity, with a significantly greater degree of improvement in the old rats compared to the young ones. Human aging is characterized by lethargy, infirmity, and weakness. There is now evidence that supplementation with two over-the-counter supplements can produce a measurable antiaging effect.

The second study published by the National Academy of Sciences showed that supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid resulted in improved memory in old rats. Electron microscopic studies in the hippocampus region of the brain showed that acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid reversed age-associated mitochondrial structural decay. In the third National Academy of Sciences study, scientists tested acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid to see if an enzyme used by the mitochondria as biologic fuel could be restored in old rats. After 7 weeks of supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid, levels of this enzyme (carnitine acetyl-transferase) were significantly restored in the aged rats. Supplementation also inhibited free radical-induced lipid peroxidation, which enhanced the activity of the energy-producing enzyme in the mitochondria. The scientists concluded that feeding old rats acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid can ameliorate oxidative damage, along with mitochondrial dysfunction.

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Outrunning death

The August 11/25, 2008 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine reported the results of a study which found that running was associated with a reduction in death and disability over a 21 year period.

Eliza F. Chakravarty, MD, MS, and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine mailed questionnaires to a group of runners and a healthy control group who were both aged 50 and older beginning in 1984. The groups completed yearly questionnaires concerning exercise frequency, disability level and body mass index through 2005.

Data for 284 runners and 156 controls were available at the end of the study. National death records confirmed that 34 percent of the controls and 15 percent of the runners had died after 19 years. Deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological disease, and other causes occurred earlier among the control group. Although disability in both groups increased over time, there was less disability among runners at all time points. "Runners' initial disability was 16 years later than nonrunners," noted senior author James Fries, MD, who is an emeritus professor of medicine at Stanford School of Medicine. "By and large, the runners have stayed healthy."

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