Senior Health: Is it All in the Genes?

When people stay healthy well into old age, most of the credit goes toward “good genes.” It’s easy to assume that when a senior avoids cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart disease and other conditions that tend to afflict the elderly in greater numbers, it’s because they lacked the genetic predisposition to those diseases. These remarkably healthy people stay mentally sharp and physically strong and agile in spite of their advancing age, leading most people to believe that they won some sort of “genetic lottery.”

As it turns out, the reasons for these amazingly healthy seniors’ lack of decline in old age are much more complicated.

Surprising Results from a New Study

Doctors recently studied more than 1,300 seniors in great health — those in their 80s who have had no chronic diseases and have taken no medication to treat chronic illnesses. More than a third of these seniors had their genomes sequenced, and their health indicators were studied for eight years in comparison to those of seniors who experienced some of the maladies that are commonly associated with old age.

What the doctors found was surprising: some people tend to remain free from the ravages of chronic disease, while others — separately — live long lives thanks to advances in modern medicine and technology. Doctors expected to see significant overlap between the two groups, but they did not.

Researchers determined that genes associated with cognitive function, however, contributed to a lesser chance of developing disease. For example, those with good cognitive genes were found to be less likely to have the so-called ApoE gene that’s linked to cases of Alzheimer’s Disease. As a result, scientists are now studying whether it’s possible to create a drug to help Alzheimer’s patients that “mimics” the unusual form of the deleterious gene.

What it All Means for Seniors

For seniors to stay healthy and relatively disease free as they progress through old age, common-sense advice still applies. Exercise and a healthy diet is important, as is engaging in activities that work the mental muscles of the brain. Although a person’s genes can impact how they will age — and how they will contract or avoid disease — living a healthy life is still the best way to ensure a good quality of living well into one’s senior years.

Doctors and scientists continue to study the genes of seniors, as well as the genes of healthy and sick people of all ages, and new technologies hold promise for future treatments that will truly change the lives of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in addition to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more about how healthy living can extend and improve the life a senior loved one in your family, Always Best Care is here for you! Our compassionate caregivers understand the needs of seniors who want to age gracefully in place, and we are always looking for new ways to provide the best care possible. Call us today at 1 (855) 470-CARE (2273) to learn more and to schedule your FREE consultation.