Science begins to unlock the secrets of brains that age well

Improvements in medicine, science and lifestyles continue to add years to the average lifespan. In the 1970s, living to 100 got you a birthday card from President Richard Nixon, said Dr. Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology and associate director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders at the University of California, Irvine.

But that stopped decades ago when the ranks of centenarians grew. Children born in the United States today are expected, on average, to live to age 103, and by the middle of the century, the U.S. will have 8-10 million people age 90 and older, she said.

“The sad thing is, we’ve added more years than we’ve added quality,” Kawas said during a press briefing on Feb. 17 at the AAAS 2018 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. About two-thirds of people over age 90 have dementia or some less severe cognitive loss. But, “there’s a remarkable core of individuals we see who maintain excellent cognitive skills and often motor skills,” she said.

press briefing

As the lead investigator of “The 90+ Study,” Kawas and other researchers have been testing and tracking subjects for the past 15 years to find differences in their brains and lifestyles that might be responsible.

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