Irvine, Calif., Oct. 17, 2013 -- UC Irvine's trailblazing 90+ Study, launched in 2003 to learn more about the "oldest old," the fastest-growing age group in the U.S., will continue for at least another five years, thanks to a $9.5 million renewal grant from the National Institute on Aging.
Previously funded by two five-year NIA awards totaling $20 million, the 90+ Study is the longest continuing research effort focused exclusively on the distinctive health and lifestyle issues of Americans in their 90s or older.
It's among the largest studies of the oldest old in the world, with clinical, pathological and genetic research being conducted on more than 1,600 participants. Based at the Clinic for Aging Research & Education in Laguna Woods, Calif., the project is co-directed by Dr. Claudia Kawas, a geriatric neurologist and professor of neurology and neurobiology & behavior, and Maria Corrada, an epidemiologist and associate adjunct professor of neurology.
"We are fortunate in this time of sequestration that our comprehensive and robust study continues to receive federal funding," Kawas said. "There truly isn't anything like the 90+ Study. Results obtained thus far have provided researchers across the globe with valuable information about aging."
While there are currently nearly 2 million nonagenarians in the U.S., that number is projected to increase to 10 million to 12 million by the middle of the century, raising concerns that the current healthcare system may not be able to accommodate this population.
The UC Irvine study is among the few to look at dementia in people over age 90. The progressive brain dysfunction gradually curtails daily activities. The most well-known type of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms include memory loss, cognitive disorientation and behavioral changes. Dementia affects not only patients but also people surrounding them, as long-term care is often required.
Research conducted by the 90+ team has revealed that:
- People who drink moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee live longer than those who abstain.
- People who are overweight in their 70s live longer than normal-weight or underweight individuals.
- More than 40 percent of people 90 and older suffer from dementia, while almost 80 percent are disabled. Both conditions are more common in women than men.
- About half of those over 90 with dementia do not have sufficient Alzheimer's-related plaque growth in their brains to explain their cognitive loss.
- Individuals 90 and older who carry the APOE2 gene are less likely to have Alzheimer's-like dementia but much more likely to have Alzheimer's-related plaque growth in their brains.
- Poor physical performance on activities such as walking is associated with increased risk of dementia.
With the renewed round of funding over the next five years, 90+ researchers plan to employ PET and MRI scans to address these questions: Why do many of the oldest old have Alzheimer's or vascular pathology in their brains but not show signs of dementia? Are they in the preclinical stages of disease? Will their cognitive abilities eventually decline?
The researchers also intend to monitor blood pressure and oxygen saturation over 24-hour spans to see if dips in blood pressure, particularly during the night, or periods of fluctuation are associated with cerebral microinfarctions or other diseases of the brain that can cause dementia.
"We will continue to try to understand what makes the oldest old so unique," Kawas said. "This is an amazing population, and we can learn so much from them."
About the University of California, Irvine: Located in coastal Orange County, near a thriving employment hub in one of the nation's safest cities, UC Irvine was founded in 1965. One of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities, it's ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine has more than 28,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It's Orange County's second-largest employer, contributing $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.
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