100-Years-Old and Dementia-Free?

Have you noticed that more and more people are living into their nineties and even to 100 and beyond? Recently, I read that beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary was 104 when she died last week.

According to a March 3, 2021, New York Times article, there are approximately 92,000 people in the United States who are over 100-years old living today. The number of centenarians in this country has grown by 44% since 2000. The Census Bureau projects this special group of people will be six times higher within the next forty years.

Will You Live to Be 100?

My grandmother lived to be ninety-six. I imagine it is possible that I could live at least as long as my grandmother lived. Curious, I plugged some of my lifestyle behaviors into a Living to 100 online calculator for a general projection. Based on the information I provided, my projected lifespan could continue for another 34 years—until I’m 103.

When you think about it, living to at least 100 isn’t as wild as you might imagine. According to the Social Security Administration, a 65-year-old man with just average health has a 35% chance of making it to at least ninety. For women with average health, the odds are even better—46%. So, if you are in good or excellent health and happen to have good genes, you may live longer than you could have imagined. But there’s a catch: As we age, our risk for dementia increases.

What’s the Catch?

Middle-aged people typically lose about 2.24 percent of their brain volume each year. According to the Alzheimer’s website, one out of six women over 60 will develop dementia compared to one out of eleven men. Because women tend to live longer, they have a greater likelihood of developing dementia.

Dementia: What are Some Contributing Factors?

Both genes and lifestyle potentially could increase our risk for dementia as we age. We can’t do much about the genes we were dealt with. However, our lifestyle choices are generally something that we can control. For example, if our body mass index (BMI) is over 30, it could triple our chances of getting dementia later in life. If we have a habit of drinking too much alcohol, smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, or getting insufficient exercise, we could also put ourselves at greater risk of dementia. Consistently, research has suggested prolonged stress could also increase our risk for dementia. In one study involving Holocaust survivors, those who had experienced this traumatic event were 1.21 times more likely to develop dementia than those who had not experienced this extremely stressful situation.

What Can We Do to Lower the Risk of Dementia?

The Blue Zones research highlights some of the regions in the world with the greatest longevity. This research also suggests lifestyles that may help reduce the risk of dementia. One of those regions is the Greek Island of Ikaria where the inhabitants have the highest “adherence to the Mediterranean diet in the world.” Ikarians also live active and engaged lives. Interestingly, their rate of dementia is “one-fifth the rate of dementia as Americans of similar age.”

Loma Linda, California is largely a Seventh-Day Adventist community and is also a Blue Zones region. A research team discovered that “less than five percent of older patients at the Loma Linda University Medical Center had dementia. Seventh-Day Adventists “eat mostly vegetarian plant-based meals, exercise regularly and have strong family and community ties.” Not surprisingly, the life expectancy for men in this community was seven years higher than the U.S. average. For women, it was nine years higher.

If we want to reduce our chances of developing dementia as we age, our lifestyle choices do matter. One of those choices that recent research is now discovering has to do with our mental attitude. Even those with a genetic variant associated with dementia were 49.8% less likely to develop it when they had a positive attitude toward aging compared to those with a negative attitude. Research also suggested that a positive attitude toward aging may help reduce stress.

If you do live to be 100, may the years ahead be some of your best. To help stack the cards in your favor, take time to assess your current lifestyle and make adjustments if needed.



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