MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Arlene Ash Ph.D., Professor
David Hoaglin Ph.D., Professor and
Aimee R. Kroll-Desrosiers, MS
Department of Quantitative Health Sciences
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: The Long Life Family Study (LLFS) is an international collaborative investigation of the genetics and familial components of exceptional survival, longevity, and healthy aging. It has enrolled members of long-lived sibships, their offspring, and spouses of either group. Medicare claims data is a unique, nationally representative source of data on all treated diseases for most Americans over the age of 65.
Our main question was: Does membership in a long-lived family protect against disease?
For each American LLFS participant who was at least age 65 in 2008 and alive in 2009, we selected four persons from the general Medicare population who matched the participant on age, sex, and ZIP code of residence. We then used 2008–2010 Beneficiary Annual Summary Files from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to compare the prevalence of 17 conditions among 781 LLFS participants in Medicare with those of 3,227 non-LLFS matches.* Analyses accounted for nesting within LLFS families and adjusted for age, sex, race, and year.
Among LLFS participants identified as members of a long-lived sibship, 7 of the 17 conditions were significantly less common than for similarly aged controls (Alzheimer’s, hip fracture, diabetes, depression, prostate cancer, heart failure and chronic kidney disease); in contrast, 4 (arthritis, cataract, osteoporosis and glaucoma) were significantly more common. Spouses, offspring and offspring spouses of these long-lived siblings share in significantly lower risk for Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart failure.
Several additional analyses found suggestive (although not statistically significant) evidence of lower disease prevalence in both genetically and maritally-related LLFS cohort members.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: Both genetic and environmental factors appear to be involved in familial clustering of delayed onset of age-related disease.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Because most of the offspring generation is still under age 75, it will be fascinating to see whether the early evidence for a health advantage in both genetic and marital relatives of long-lived siblings strengthens as the cohort ages.
It will also be useful to understand why diagnoses of arthritis, cataract, osteoporosis and glaucoma are more common among the LLFS siblings than in the general population. If this cannot be explained by differences in health-seeking behaviors, it is truly puzzling.
* A small number of LLFS members and matches had been eliminated for data incompleteness, modestly perturbing the 4:1 study design.
Are Members of Long-Lived Families Healthier Than Their Equally Long-Lived Peers? Evidence From the Long Life Family Study J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci first published online March 5, 2015 doi:10.1093/gerona/glv015