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Aging and Population Health

With life expectancy at an all-time high there has never been a more urgent need to understand how to add "life to years" and identify strategies for successful aging. Our researchers have applied a life-course approach to aging.

Brain Aging and Dementia: Looking Early in Life to Provide Clues to Aging Well

Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) has over 300,000 elderly health plan members, many of whom have received their medical care from KPNC for several decades. This resource � in conjunction with the Multiphasic Health Study, which commenced in 1964-73 � has provided seminal clues as to why individuals may or may not age successfully by evaluating risk and protective factors from early life on aging outcomes. Dementia currently impacts 1 in 3 adults over age 85 and is expected to quadruple in incidence by 2050. Researchers have found that those who are obese, smoked, have hypertension, high cholesterol or depression in early adulthood have a substantially increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia in late-life. These studies have identified early-life modifiable risk factors and provide a framework for potential dementia prevention.

Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Cognitive Aging

In 35 years one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 85​ will be Hispanic, African American or other ethno-racial minority. If trends persist, more than 50 percent of these individuals will suffer from dementia. Our researchers are in the unique position to study dementia in numerous ethnic minority groups and uncover why certain groups are at higher risk. Our research shows that African Americans and Native Americans have increased rates of dementia compared to other groups. Current work is focusing on why these disparities exist and ways to mitigate them.

Aging Successfully with Diabetes

Those with type 2 diabetes have double the risk of dementia; our researchers are uncovering why. Our research has shown that appropriate glycemic control, avoiding low blood sugar episodes and microvascular complications are key to reducing risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. Researchers have created the "Diabetes-Specific Dementia Risk Score," an instrument to easily and quickly calculate 10-year dementia risk specifically for those with type 2 diabetes. This is a powerful tool that gives diabetes patients important information on how to reduce their own dementia risk.

Researchers are now focusing their efforts on the elderly type 1 diabetes population as these patients have recently begun to live longer. How these patients can age well and preserve their cognitive and physical function in late life is the focus of a newly launched study.

The Science of Longevity

Living to age 90 or beyond is no longer a rare occurrence, and our research is now turning to this group to identify predictors of longevity and course of disease in this special population. The Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health provides fertile ground for delineating the molecular epidemiology and genetics of increased lifespan.