Learning Lessons from 157 Lifetimes by Steven N. Koppes
UGA researchers have spent the past decade searching for the secret to living an active, meaningful life beyond the age of 100. But instead of a secret formula, they’ve found an equal-opportunity phenomenon.
"Perhaps the most interesting issue that emerged among the centenarians is the large variability of their functioning, abilities and personality traits," said Leonard Poon, director of the UGA Gerontology Center. "We interpret these results from the optimistic perspective that any person may have a chance of living a long and productive life."
In 1988, Poon, Mary Ann Johnson, a UGA professor of foods and nutrition, and five other faculty members began examining the lives of 157 mentally and physically active people who had attained the age of 100, as part of the Georgia Centenarian Study (Research Reporter, Summer 1995). In all, the team sifted through the lives of more than 350 people in their 60s, 80s and 100s to determine how and why some people become "master survivors."
Demographic trends triggered the study because people 85 and older are the fastest-growing population, both in the United States and worldwide. Most research on aging, however, has targeted adults aged 20 to 65.
The UGA study, funded by the National Institute for Mental Health, found that centenarians exhibit a large variety of traits. Few traits or markers have turned up that could account for long life spans. Further research involving additional centenarian populations will verify whether certain genes, foods or behaviors may be associated with longevity.
"When we relate these markers of successful aging with longevity, it is difficult, if not impossible, to reliably identify a few major contributors," Poon said. "Rather, some predictors are pertinent for some centenarians, but no major predictor is most pertinent to all."
UGA’s Gerontology Center is planning an international centenarian study to identify culture-common and culture-specific markers of adaptation and longevity. Centenarians in France, Germany, Sweden, England, Japan and the United States will take part.
For more information please e-mail Leonard Poon at firstname.lastname@example.org or access www.geron.uga.edu/