Some, but not all, of the healthy oldest-old have reached that mark because of their genes. Researchers from the New England Centenarian Study have found that genes may explain some of the basis for very long lives (Perls & Terry, 2003). In that study "50% of centenarians have first-degree relatives and/or grandparents who also achieved very old age, and many have exceptionally old siblings." Children of centenarians also appear to have less cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mortality (Perls, n.d.). The Georgia Centenarian Study did find many over age 100 whose families were not long-lived (Purdy, 1995).
How Long is Long?
As we have learned, very long-lived people share many physical, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental characteristics. One aspect of health may be influenced by many factors. The Seattle Longitudinal Study found the risk of cognitive impairment was reduced by all of the following:
- Lack of cardiac and other chronic diseases
- High income and a good environment
- Intellectually stimulating environment
- Flexible attitude at midlife
- A husband or wife with good cognitive functioning
- Continuing high levels of "perceptual processing speed" (Seattle Longitudinal Study, n.d.)
Exactly how all of these relationships work together depends upon the unique circumstances of each patient. While it would seem unlikely that a computer program could calculate how everything we have discussed can predict an individual's longevity, the New England Centenarian Study feels confident that they have created just that. Interested in how all the elements of your life may affect how long you will live? You may wish to log on to the "Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator" at www.livingto100.com. After you enter information into the survey, the Calculator will tell you how many years it estimates you are likely to live