Want to be 105? Check your genes

Want to be 105? Check your genes

Alexander Imich died at age 111 last year in New York. He was the world's oldest man at the time.

NBC New York
Alexander Imich died at age 111 last year in New York. He was the world’s oldest man at the time.

Genes, healthy living and good luck may all help get you to age 90. But if you want to live past 100, you had better hope you got good genes, researchers said Thursday.

On ongoing study of super-agers — people who live to be 105 or even older — shows that one of the best predictors of how they got to be so old is whether a brother or sister did.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” said Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston Medical Center, who led the study.  “Two numbers aren’t so hard to get but getting all seven numbers, that’s tough.”  Perls’ team has already shown that more than 280 genes are involved in getting people to extreme old age — 105 and older.  Siblings of men who lived to be at least 90 had 1.7 times the usual chance of living to be 90, also, they found. Siblings of anyone who lived to be 105 had more than 35 times the chance of also living to be 105 compared to the general population.  They’ve been using a group of volunteers from all over the world who have lived into extreme old age. They’ve got a database of 2,200 people who lived or are alive past the age of 100.

“It is very funny when someone 100 calls us and we tell them, ‘you are too young’,” Perls said. “For the super-centenarians, we have to go all over the world,” Perls added. “At any given time there are 60 to 70 super centenarians alive in the United States.” For this study, Perls, Paola Sebastiani and colleagues studied 1,917 people with at least brother or sister who lived to 90. In more than 1,000 of these people, at least one sibling lived to 100 and among 511 them, one sibling lived to 105 or more.

The older that people got, the more strongly the family relationship factored in. Perls say previous studies show this is strongly due to genetic factors rather than the many other things that siblings have in common, such as their own lifestyle habits, where they were born and brought up, the habits of their parents and so on.

“Genes play an increasingly stronger and stronger role if one wants to get to their early 100s and older,” Perls said.Even better for the long-lived: the oldest old were healthy right up to the end. They don’t suffer through 10, 15 or 20 years of frailty, but tend to be healthy until the last five years of life or so.

“We showed that on average people surviving to age 110-plus years spend only the last five years of their extremely long lives with age-related diseases that are associated with increased mortality risk,” Perls’ team wrote. “Such individuals also markedly compress the period of their lives spent with disability.”

That shows something is going on, genetically, Perls says. “People who live into their 90s are totally different from people who live to be 100 or 105,” he said.

In 2010, the same team found that people who lived to be 100 or older could be fitted into 19 groups with different genetic signatures. Some genes correlate with longer survival, others delayed the onset of various age-related diseases such as dementia.  People now have much greater odds of living into extreme old age than people in earlier generations, simply because of medical advances, Perls says. But there’s still a limit. The longest validated lifespan is for Jeanne Calment , who died in 1997 at when she was 122 years and 167 days old.

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