While it is understood that longevity and health are influenced by complex interactions among biological, psychological, and sociological factors, there is a general lack of understanding on how psychosocial factors impact longevity, health, and quality of life among the oldest old. One of the reasons for this paradox is that the amount of funded research on aging in the US is significantly larger in the biomedical compared to psychosocial domains. The goals of this paper are to highlight recent data to demonstrate the impact of four pertinent psychosocial domains on health and quality of life of the oldest old and supplement recommendations of the 2001 NIA Panel on Longevity for future research. The four domains highlighted in this paper are (1) demographics, life events, and personal history, (2) personality, (3) cognition, and (4) socioeconomic resources and support systems.
Used a population-based sample (Georgia Centenarian Study, GCS), to determine proportions of centenarians reaching 100 years as (1) survivors (43%) of chronic diseases first experienced between 0-80 years of age, (2) delayers (36%) with chronic diseases first experienced between 80-98 years of age, or (3) escapers (17%) with chronic diseases only at 98 years of age or older. Diseases fall into two morbidity profiles of 11 chronic diseases; one including cardiovascular disease, cancer, anemia, and osteoporosis, and another including dementia. Centenarians at risk for cancer in their lifetime tended to be escapers (73%), while those at risk for cardiovascular disease tended to be survivors (24%), delayers (39%), or escapers (32%). Approximately half (43%) of the centenarians did not experience dementia. Psychiatric disorders were positively associated with dementia, but prevalence of depression, anxiety, and psychoses did not differ significantly between centenarians and an octogenarian control group. However, centenarians were higher on the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) than octogenarians. Consistent with our model of developmental adaptation in aging, distal life events contribute to predicting survivorship outcome in which health status as survivor, delayer, or escaper appears as adaptation variables late in life.
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