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A new study led by Boston Medical Center researchers shows that children of centenarians cognitively age better compared to older adults without familial longevity. Previous research has indicated that children of centenarians have markedly reduced rates of heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes and hypertension compared to people born around the same time who do not have a centenarian parent. This research confirms the same holds true for cognitive impairment.

Almost 4000 centenarians were involved in the study

The researchers compared centenarian offspring to a comparison group of their spouses and of people with a parent born in the same birth cohort as the centenarians but who lived to average life expectancy. They administered a brief and validated cognitive function assessment every two years by telephone.

The study used data from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, which has enrolled almost 4,000 centenarians, their siblings, and their children since the study began in 1994.

Centenarians, people who reach the age of 100+ years old, are quite rare. But how rare? According to Boston University’s New England Centenarian study updates, currently in the USA, they occur at a rate of about 1 centenarian per 5,000 people. As the USA is such a large country though, there are a whopping 70,000 or so alive centenarians.

Centenerians studySupercentenarians are people living to 110 + years

“The number of centenarians plummets with increasing age, with people at ages 105 years to 109 years, who are called “semi-supercentenarians.”  They occur at a rate of about one per 250,000. This translates into about 1,400 “semi-supers” alive in the USA at any one time. Finally, super-centenarians, or people living to 110+ years,occur at the rate of about one per 5 million people, or a total of 70 supers alive at any one time in the USA.
According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report, centenarians pass away from pretty much the
same things as younger old people. That is, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cancer, influenza and pneumonia. Their great advantage over the rest of the older population is that centenarians cope with these diseases much better, living independently up through at least their early to mid nineties. For those who live to 105+ years, they also either greatly delay the age of onset for these diseases or even escape them entirely.”

Ben Sweigart is the study’s statistician and Biostatistics doctoral student at the Boston University School of Public Health. He explains that, at a mean age of 75 years, centenarian offspring were 46 percent less likely to be cognitively impaired after adjusting for age, sex, education, and a history of stroke or diabetes. Additionally, centenarian offspring were 27 percent less likely to become cognitively impaired over the next eight years.

Children of centenarians

“People with familial longevity not only live longer, but perhaps more importantly, they live more years in good health and with good cognitive function,” explains lead author Stacy Andersen PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Studying the genetic and environmental factors shared by centenarians and their family members may help us identify ways to help more people keep their brains healthier as they age.”

Studying centenarians creates better insights about ultra longevity

The authors note that studying adult children of centenarians helps elucidate how exceptional longevity manifests earlier in life, and that such studies are less likely to be hindered by significant hearing or vision impairment, which are common toward the end of life for centenarians. Besides having a centenarian parent, the study showed that being younger, female or having more years of education were also associated with reduced risk of cognitive impairment.

This study is published online in the Journal of Gerontology, Medical Sciences.

About Boston Medical Center
Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 487-bed, academic medical center that is the primary teaching affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine. It is the largest and busiest provider of trauma and emergency services in New England. Boston Medical Center offers specialized care for complex health problems and is a leading research institution, receiving more than $116 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2017.


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This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.