Dr. Claudia Kawas, MD, Professor of Neurology at the University of California, Irvine recently visited the Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania for a Visiting Scholars Series lecture on “Clinical and Pathological Studies of the Oldest-Old.”
Dr. Kawas’ work focuses on the “oldest-old” — those over the age of 90. “We’ve added 28 years to life expectancy in the last century,” she said. “People over 90 are now the fastest growing segment of the population and are going to quadruple over the next couple of decades.”
Kawas and her team have a multidisciplinary approach to their research studying a variety of factors influencing the participants lifespan – they look at participants activity levels, attitudes, diets, and memory among other things that may play a role in living a longer life. Their findings identified several factors that positively influenced longevity such as exercise, cognitive or social activities, and positive attitudes. They also found that while having a healthy diet is important, taking dietary supplements such as vitamins C, E, and A were not associated with longer life.
Dr. Kawas shared that one of her favorite parts of her research career has been working on autopsy studies, many of which have been done in collaboration with researchers here at the University of Pennsylvania. “What stuns people the most is the realization that probably about 40% of individuals in this age group who die without dementia, in fact have significant amounts of disease in brain including Alzheimer’s disease yet they seem to be relatively fine,” she said. “If we can figure out why they aren’t expressing dementia then [maybe] we can find strategies that’ll help all of us and at younger ages.”