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The National Institute on Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, is conducting the first study of its kind to uncover what factors, including genetic and environmental, contribute to keeping the “oldest old” families relatively healthy and to discover if families with many long-lived individuals share common characteristics or habits that help them stay healthy. The Long Life Family Study (LLFS) is collecting data from families with at least two members reaching a very old age. The data may, at some time in the future, help guide lifestyle advice and medical treatments.Â

While previous research on centenarians and other elderly people suggest that longevity has a familial link, LLFS researchers are also examining non-genetic factors, including physical activity and social networks. “This is a groundbreaking study because it is the first and largest to examine both siblings and children of the very old,” says Winifred K. Rossi, Deputy Director of the NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. “We hope this will be a longitudinal study where we can study their families for many years.”

Researchers began recruiting participants in 2006 and are hoping to obtain data for 4,800 people, including the primary subject and their siblings and children. LLFS investigators are seeking families with a history of longevity, including at least two very old living siblings. Participants are screened to ensure that they meet specific study criteria, including being relatively healthy, not cognitively impaired and not confined to a wheelchair. This is no easy task since frailty and illness is common among individuals at an advanced age. “The biggest recruiting challenge is finding participants and getting them to respond and getting them engaged,” says Ms. Rossi. And adds Dr. Michael A. Province, a professor of biostatistics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which is responsible for gathering the data: “These are exceptional families, who make up only one to two percent of the population over age 85.”

Source: A4M – Study launched to learn about factors that contribute to longevity

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