X-Message-Number: 14861
From: "Jan Coetzee" <>
Subject: Extreme Old Age 
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 18:48:38 -0500

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Extreme Old Age May Run in Families 

By Alan Mozes 

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Contrary to conventional scientific wisdom that 
nurture, not nature, determines whether a person will live to an extremely old 
age, researchers have now amassed circumstantial evidence that some families 
seem to have a genetic predisposition towards living 100 years or more. 

``I think people have always suspected that old age runs in families, but this 
really is the first paper to show that there actually can be an extreme of 
that--where you see multiple members or siblings in one family living to 
exceptional old age,'' according to Dr. Thomas Perls, from Harvard Medical 
School, Boston, Massachusetts. 

Perls and colleagues examined the family trees of four American families. All of
the families had a history of brothers and sisters living beyond 90 years of 
age. The study findings are published in the November issue of the Journal of 
the American Geriatrics Society. 

The research team compared the estimated life expectancy of the average person 
born in 1801, 1850, and 1900 with the actual life span of members of each of the
families. Although they did not take into account environmental factors that 
could influence survival rates--such as excellent parental care and protection 
from disease--Perls and his team found that groups of siblings in the four 
families typically lived far beyond the norms for their time. 

The investigators note that there was only a 10% chance that a typical 19th 
century family would have had six siblings living beyond the age of 90--as was 
the case with a New Hampshire family that ultimately included one male and four 
females who lived beyond the age of 100. 

In another of the families, 50% of the 46 members of the one generation lived to
an extreme old age of between 90 and 106 years. The researchers conclude that 
such high numbers could not be attributed to chance--and that genetics had to 
have played an important role in the outcome since the centenarian offspring 
included cousins who had not been raised in common childhood environments. 

In an interview with Reuters Health, Perls noted that Nova Scotia, parts of the 
northern mid-west US corridor, and the Italian island of Sardinia seem to have 
the highest known concentrations of such long-living families. 

``We've very excited about having discovered families like this,'' he said. ``We
look at families like this--and other families where there may be just two 
siblings living to an old age--in our hunt for genes that play a role in people 
living to good health beyond the age of 80.'' 

Perls added, ``Our hope is that by discovering such genes we will learn more 
about why people age differently from one another, and perhaps how to markedly 
avoid the occurrence of age-related illnesses like stroke, heart attacks, 
cancer, and Alzheimer's disease--which the centenarians naturally do.'' 

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2000;48:1483-1485. 


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