An Interview with Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group

Here one of the long-standing core members of the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) is interviewed. This volunteer organization maintains and validates records of supercentenarians, those rare individuals who live past 110, and also runs one of the few online watering holes for the aging research community. Unfortunately, the interviewer is overly flippant on the topic of aging and longevity, but that can be skipped in favor of the more interesting portions of the interview:

What's the goal of the GRG? Do you want to live forever?

So basically at the moment it has two main departments. One is run by the successor of Dr. Stephen Coles, who founded the GRG in 1990 and passed away in 2014 at the age of - unfortunately - only 73. The goal was for other scientists to get together and discuss the aging process and discuss potential treatments for the aging process. The idea at the time was that Western medicine was too focused on treating the symptoms of aging and not focused on treating the causes of aging. The idea was that if you put a bunch of bright minds together, you would get good results.

What's the history of age validation?

It started in the 1800s with life insurance policies. Actuaries were trying to figure out how long people lived to calculate rate for those policies. Except for the small niche field of actuarial research, very little research was done into supercentenarians. There was no database when the GRG decided to start keeping track in 1998. About 1 in 5 million people in the US are 110 and older, and before the internet came along there was no way to assemble someone that rare into data groups. But when the internet came along, we could get information from all over the world, and it became viable to study them as a population group. Things have changed so fast since the GRG went online in 1995, almost 21 years ago. Smart phones came around 2007, 2008. Go back to 2004 and only had 20 percent of the US census data online. Go back to 2000 and if you wanted to find a document on an extremely old person, you had to use the old hand-crank newsreel. Wow. It could take hours upon hours to look on every line of every page.

I feel like there's a story every month about the world's oldest person dying.

So here's the thing. There's a misconception that the world's oldest person dies all the time. Not true. Since Guinness started keeping track in 1955, the average length of reign has been about 1.6 years. Part of the problem though is that we do have unverified claims of people saying they're older than the oldest person and that gets reported by the media. You also get what's called the longevity myth, which is where people's imaginations exceed reality. So if you don't have a record of when you're born and you're gonna guesstimate your age, and after the age of 80, people begin to inflate their age.

Give it to me straight. What is the longest I could possibly live?

Scientifically speaking, the odds of living to 127 at the moment are one in a trillion, which means it's not happening. Living to anywhere between 115 and 120, you have what I call "probable impossible," I'd say there's about a 1 percent chance, but there's still a possibility. Between 120 and 127, the odds of surviving really begin to disappear totally. When we look at the statistics, we have currently 2,500 cases of people 110 plus. Of those, by the age of 118, only two. When you're going from 2,500 to two in just eight years, to me that's scary. Humans seem to have a warranty period of about 100 years. The average cell divides every two years. Cells divide about 50 times. To get to 115, you'd have to age about 15 percent slower than normal. Basically, Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122, was called the Michael Jordan of aging. The point was that all the practice in the world isn't gonna make you play basketball like Michael Jordan. OK? On the other hand, if Michael Jordan never practiced, he wouldn't be as good as he was. So you have to fulfill your potential by trying to do the best you can do, but at the same time, you can't make yourself a longevity star.

Do you get the sense that it's even worth living that long? Is there any quality of life at 115?

I've probably met over 50 who are 110 plus. It can vary. One of the things that's clear to me is that you can't put them all in one category. We had one woman who was 116 who lived in her own home, she could walk with a walker, she ate Wendy's, she watched TV, she could do an interview. That's the ultimate extreme case of living well and hanging out with the great, great grandkids. On the other hand, we had a woman who was confined to bed for 21 hours a day, awake for only three, unable to get up. That's a sad situation where maybe it's not worth it. Most people are somewhere in the middle. One more thing I wanna say is that the people who live the oldest are in the best shape. So almost everybody that lives to be 115 was living on their own at 100. So we need to get rid of this idea of, "I'm gonna be 30 years in a nursing home." It's not like that.



His comment that people over 80 begin to inflate their age is interesting to me as I have long suspected this dynamic. 80 is just old, 100 is an achievement. when soneone starts to approach 100 they recieve a lot of status and attention.

Posted by: JohnD at May 24th, 2016 12:28 PM

This is more in response to the article on protein intake....

I currently eat minor amounts of animal protein myself...mostly plant-based whole foods...but if this is accurate...then AGE is a major factor that CANNOT be ignored when speaking of the right amount of protein intake?

I do take certain "targeted" amino acids daily including the 9 essential aminos after exercising.

Research suggests that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline. To compensate for this loss, protein requirements may increase with age. Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues in Tohoku University and Teikyo University, Japan, wondered whether protein intake might affect the functional capabilities of older adults. They designed a study to investigate the relationship between protein intake and future decline in higher-level functional capacity in older community-dwelling adults in Japan. Their analysis included 1,007 individuals with an average age of 67.4 years who completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. Participants were divided into four groups (quartiles) according to their intake levels of total, animal, and plant protein. Tests of higher-level functional capacity included social and intellectual aspects as well as measures related to activities of daily living.

Men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.

Posted by: fred at June 1st, 2016 6:25 AM
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