60 Minutes: The Oldest Old
Lesley Stahl said that humanity has been striving to live forever, and life expectancy dramatically increased over the past century, jumping from 49 in 1900 to 79 in modern times. 60 Minutes wondered what helps people get into the over-90 crowd, or the “Oldest Old.” Do you want to live to age 90? You might find out how.
“Men and women above the age of 90 are now the fastest growing segment of the US population,” Stahl said, though we know little about the demographic population because it is relatively new. What should you do if you want to get to this age milestone, or if you find yourself there?
The 90+ Study aimed to figure out the secrets in these people’s lives and learn from them. A panel of the “Oldest Old” spoke with 60 Minutes to talk about what this era of their lives is like. Ruthy Stahl said she feels younger than her age, for example.
60 Minutes: Leisure World Retirement Community
What the people who spoke with 60 Minutes had in common was residence at the Leisure World retirement community, located 45 miles south of Los Angeles decades ago and marketed to adults 52 and older.
The name has changed and the place became a city, Laguna Woods. Dr Claudia Kawas said that the residents consider themselves active. The neurologist from UC Irvine stumbled on a treasure trove of valuable information gathered about residents and their habits in the 1980s, detailing the dietary and lifestyle habits of thousands of residents.
Dr Kawas said that many of these people who are still alive are over age 90. She and a team of researchers obtained $6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to track down the 14,000 original study participants and find out what their lives had been like in the 30 years since.
60 Minutes: Laguna Woods 90+
Jane Whistler is one of the 1,600 participants who was located and enrolled in the new study, dubbed 90+. The adults are given physical checkups every six months, and everything from facial muscles, reflexes, walking speed, and even sitting-standing tests are evaluated. Plus, they get to test their brains in memory and cognitive tests.
Whistler told 60 Minutes that she looks forward to her checkups, though she does wonder whether she will do a little worse the next time. How could you not? More impressively, these seniors are in great shape!
Lou Tirado, a WWII veteran who spent eight months as a German POW, is among the spry subjects. Sid Shero, another veteran, spoke to 60 Minutes a few weeks after having a stroke. Shero drives a convertible to his testing. A widower, he reads the newspaper, works out, and mingles on the singles scene.
60 Minutes: How To Live To Age 90
But there are some who are not doing so well. Louise Bigelow, one of the participants, was too frail to come in, so researchers paid a house call to check in on her. Bigelow remembers events from her wedding day, including an accidental fire involving her veil. But she has more of a struggle with recent memories.
Ruthy Stahl welcomes the testers to her home because she has such a busy schedule. At age 95, she speed walks three miles almost every day. Ruthy and Whistler both have computer skills. Whistler’s former bridge partners have all passed away.
60 Minutes asked the obvious question: what made these people survive past the age of 90? Genetics are one factor, according to Dr Kawas, but that’s not the whole picture. Comparing data from the 1980s to current information has led to some actionable conclusions.
60 Minutes: How Long To Exercise for Longevity
Smokers passed away before non-smokers, which seems like an obvious conclusion. Those who exercised lived longer. Even just 15 minutes daily seems to have made a difference, Dr Kawas told 60 Minutes, though 45 minutes was best.
That could be broken up throughout the day, and longer or more intense was not always better. Social activities also seemed to be a positive factor in longevity. “The benefit of those things never leveled off,” Kawas said.
60 Minutes: Alcohol, Coffee & Longevity
Lesley Stahl said the people she talked to did not seem overly preoccupied with their health. They did not have restrictive diets, and many of them are fans of wines; “moderate alcohol was associated with living longer,” Dr Kawas reported (that’s up to two drinks per day, with a 10-15% increase in longevity). On the other hand, vitamins did not seem to make a difference in longevity.
As for coffee drinkers, here’s some good news for you: the caffeine equivalent of one to three cups of coffee per day “was better than more or none,” 60 Minutes said. Perhaps best of all, maintaining or gaining weight, being a little overweight, could be good for your health in later years.