Studying the Oldest Old

HOBBIES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH

Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.

SPECIAL PLANS FOR YOUR SPECIAL PEOPLE

Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.

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WHY WE ENJOY OUR HOBBIES

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.

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The University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging hosted its seventh annual Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia on Nov. 4 at the Lexington Convention Center. The program offered sessions for both scientific and community audiences. Clinicians and researchers from UK and other institutions came together to share current findings and trends and the latest updates on dementia and aging disorders, particularly as they relate to Alzheimer’s disease.


Among the research studies presented was one conducted by Dr. Claudia Kawas, a geriatric neurologist at the University of California-Irvine. Kawas has been working on the 90-Plus Study, a longitudinal study of people age 90 years and older, since 2003.


Kawas said in the United States today, 2 million people are older than 90 years. That number could hit 10 million by 2050. About 30 years ago, University of Southern California researchers sent a 14-page questionnaire to residents of Leisure World, now Laguna Woods. About 13,000 people ranging from age 55 to 100 years responded and also answered four follow-up questionnaires about lifestyle benefits and exercise. Results of the 90-Plus Study found what we have come to understand about aging may have a different twist. The study did not show much benefit in taking vitamins A, E, C or calcium for longevity. Tea and soda also had no effect on aging. However, people who drank a modest amount of alcohol – about one or two drinks a week to

STUDYING THE OLDEST OLD

one daily drink – seemed to live longer on average. People who consumed 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about one small Starbucks coffee) lived longer on average than those who did not. Physical activity, including exercising at least 15 minutes a day, helped aging. Exercising for 45 minutes was even better.


The study also found body mass index has an interesting effect on longevity. Being overweight was a negative until age 80 years, but beyond that age it showed a benefit of a 3-percent reduction in mortality. Beyond age 80 years, underweight individuals had a 50-percent increase in mortality.


The 90-Plus Study also addressed cognition and dementia. With 1,600 people older than 90 years who entered the study, the researchers began finding interesting details. From age 65 years, a person’s risk for developing symptoms of dementia doubles with every five years of life. Kawas’ research showed this trend continued past age 90 years. She noted high blood pressure has an effect on a person’s risk for dementia but probably not in the way you’d expect. In subjects who developed hypertension in their 80s or 90s, researchers actually saw a reduction in the risk for dementia by as much as 60 percent. Read more about the 90- Plus Study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ or access the community session handout at www.uky.edu/coa/research-resources.   

DR. THOMAS W. MILLER, PH.D, ABPP

Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP, is a Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut and Professor Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine and Department of Gerontology, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky.

more articles by dr thomas W. Miller