How’d They Get to Age 110 — Attitude or DNA? aging

People who have reached the 12th decade of life “rarely face protracted illness or disability before they die,” reports Amy Harmon in The New York Times. Many of these supercentenarians credit a lifestyle that encompasses personal pleasures — say, cooking or family time or even going to online chat rooms for senior citizens. They also seem to have common traits like “perseverance, compassion and a sense of humor that trends toward the dark.” Such longevity is rare — there may be only 1,000 people in the world who are 110 or older. Now researchers are looking into whether living so long can also be the result of something in the genes, and they have collected DNA samples of people ages 107 and up. It’s the largest cache of supercentenarian genomes yet to be sequenced and made public, and “it is conceivable that a drug or gene therapy could be devised to replicate the effects in the rest of us.” The idea, Harmon writes in her fascinating article — which, by the way, includes great quotes from supercentenarians themselves — is not to extend life span but rather to expand our “health span.” And in her “Story Behind the Story” piece in the Times, “Do We Even Want to Live Past 100?” Harmon notes that some economists believe that applying what we learn from supercentenarians could be a boon for societal wealth “as a result of plummeting health care costs and increased productivity.”

despairAs ‘Deaths of Despair’ Soar, Groups Urge a National Resilience Strategy

More than 1.6 million Americans could die from suicide, alcohol and drugs in the decade ending in 2025. This epidemic touches families in every part of society and can never be solved with an incremental approach that addresses one piece of the problem at a time, write John Auerbach and Benjamin F. Miller in Stat. That’s why the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust  are calling for the creation of a National Resilience Strategy “that takes a comprehensive approach and focuses on prevention, early identification of issues and effective treatment.” The Trusts’ report, “Pain in the Nation,” outlines specific tactics that include, among several others, improving pain management; expanding crisis-intervention services and anti-bullying education in schools; strengthening support services for veterans; scaling up evidence-based life and coping skills programs; and increasing the availability of mental health and other services. Health care providers and “local, state and federal governments —particularly Congress — need to be dauntless in their response,” the authors write. “We can prevent needless deaths and spare our next generation from a lifetime of suffering.”

'Tis the Season for SAD. ‘Happy Box’ Might Help SAD-light-box

Lack of light in winter can cause seasonal affective disorder, but a study out of Northwestern University suggests that a daily dose of bright, white artificial light might help individuals with depression. As reported by Patti Neimond on National Public Radio, the study involved people with at least moderate bipolar depression. Half were given a light box — some referred to it as a “happy box” — that consisted of a screen emitting bright light. The other half received a dim, red placebo light. The happy box subjects sat in front of the light between noon and 2:30 p.m. and carried on with normal tasks like paying bills or reading. After four to six weeks, 68 percent of those patients “achieved remission of depression compared with 22 percent of patients who received the placebo light,” Neimond writes. Experts note that medication regimens remained normal for all patients and warned that the results are “very preliminary” and bipolar patients should not try light therapy on their own. Still, the study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry “offers a glimmer into a new pathway for treatment,” according to Ken Duckworth, a psychiatrist and medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Speaking of Living Longer: Thanks, Roxie

OK, this is me pandering yet again to my schnoodle (yes, her name is Roxie), but The New York Times’ Nicholas Bakalar reports on a 12-year study finding that among 3.4 million Swedes 40 to 80 years of age, owning a dog was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of all-cause death and a 23 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Researchers excluded individuals who had cardiovascular disease before their research began. “Owning a dog is good motivation to get out and exercise and may provide some social support,” the study’s senior author says.