A new study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, claims that scientists have identified the genes responsible for preserving cognition even at the age of 90 years. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are the first to identify the genetic association with cognition and age.
"Successful aging has been defined in many ways, however, we focused on individuals who had reached at least 90 without significant decline in mental capacity," said lead researcher George S. Zubenko, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "While this is a goal that many of us share, such a definition of 'successful aging' can be determined objectively and consistently across subjects--an important requirement of scientific studies."
While previous research has revealed that genes make important contributions to exceptional longevity, the goal of this study was to identify regions of the human genome that contributed, along with lifestyle factors, to reaching age 90 with preserved cognition.
The study identified nine genetic regions that were associated with successful aging, some of which affected men or women, but not both. "Historically women have lived longer than men on average, the prevalence of numerous serious diseases differs in men and women, and there are important differences in age-related physiological changes that occur between the sexes over the life span," said Dr. Zubenko. "It would not be surprising if the collection of genes that influences the capacity to reach old age with normal mental capacity differs somewhat for men and women." The majority of the successful aging or "SAG" regions overlapped with gene locations previously reported to show linkage to susceptibility genes for cardiovascular disorders, psychiatric disorders and the accumulation of tissue damage due to oxidative stress. The results of the study also highlighted the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking, excessive drinking and serious mental disorders on successful aging in both sexes.
"The finding that genetics, lifestyle decision making, and their interactions, may influence the ability to reach old age with preserved cognition is exciting," stated Dr. Zubenko. "Identifying such genetic and behavioral factors may hold promise for better understanding the aging process and perhaps one day enriching or extending the lives of other individuals."