British Columbian researchers are trying to answer the age old question: what is the secret to a long, healthy life?
And to help find the answer, lead researcher Angela Brooks-Wilson said she’s seeking “super seniors” to take part in the Canada-wide study.
Brooks-Wilson defines super seniors as people who are age 85 or older, who have never been diagnosed with cancer, heart disease or stroke, dementia or Alzheimer’s, diabetes or lung disease.
She said super seniors are “actually quite rare” and the study is looking for as many participants as possible.
Parksville Qualicum Beach is known for being a retirement Mecca and the oldest community in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, the average age in Qualicum Beach is 64.
“The idea behind studying people who are 85 and free of disease is that we want to look at health rather than just longevity,” Brooks-Wilson told The NEWS from Vancouver, where the study is based.
She explains the purpose is to determine whether super seniors have genetic characteristics that protect them from major diseases like cancer. Additionally, a branch of the study will look at centenarians, people who are age 100 or older. Centenarians are eligible regardless of any health issues.
The Canadian Cancer Society is providing $200,000 of funding over the next two years for the study, a first in Canada, which is the second phase of a research project that started more than a decade ago. The first phase looked at 500 super seniors based in the Metro Vancouver area, who were interviewed in their homes.
The second phase, Brooks-Wilson said, will be simplified as the subject pool stretches across the country.
“For those who are eligible we mail out a consent form and questionnaire, super seniors will be asked to fill it out as best they can or call us for help,” she said. “Then we’ll send them a kit and ask them to spit in a tube for a saliva test which is used to isolate their DNA, we’ll also ask for a medical release form so we can ask their family doctor for health information.”
Brooks-Wilson confirmed the study is “completely confidential.”
The questionnaire will look at some of the diseases the study doesn’t exclude against, as well as the lifespan of participant’s parents and siblings.
“It’s interesting that the parents of super seniors (in the first phase of the study) tended to live on average
14 years longer than people lived at the time, that’s huge for someone born in the 1900s,” she said.
The study doesn’t have a formal end date and Brooks-Wilson said it’s something that will likely continue as long as new questions can be answered.
“We have specific goals for specific times,” she said. “Over the next two years we want to find out if there is evidence for protective factors in the genetics of super seniors.”
Brooks-Wilson said researchers acknowledge genetics account for approximately 25 per cent of healthy aging, while lifestyle and environment account for the remaining 75 per cent. This study, she said, considers lifestyle factors but doesn’t focus on them.
Of note, she said factors they do consider are smoking and drinking, stress, relationship status, children, what age they had children and family history.
Brooks-Wilson said the next phase will build on data compiled from the research currently underway.
To date, more than 300 super seniors from across the country have signed up for the new phase of the study.
If you meet the requirements and are interested in taking part in the research study, please contact 604-675-8151 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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