The Link Between Cognitive Health and Longevity

Researchers at the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in San Diego, California, released a long-term study on the link between cognitive health and protection from chronic diseases. Originally dubbed the “Healthy Elderly” study, it has since come to be known as the “Wellderly” study.

The Wellderly study, published in the journal Cell, followed 1400 individuals between the ages of 80 and 105. All participants do not have a history of, nor do they currently suffer from any chronic diseases.

This study is unique because the research team is not simply studying the genetics behind longevity but rather the ‘healthy aging phenotype’, which is defined as the genetics of disease-free aging in humans without medical interventions. This study is also the first-of-its-kind to use genetic sequencing to focus on health and underlying genetic mechanisms on a large-scale as opposed to looking only at the causes of specific diseases.

At first, the research team was unable to find genetic variants previously linked with longevity and found no differences in the group’s genetic risk for cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes. They did, however, find that the brains of Wellderly participants are more protected against cognitive decline due to genetic variants that help preserve brain health. Specifically, some participants had an extremely rare group of variants of the gene COL25A1, which codes for a protein that is known to build-up and cause amyloid plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This means that the group has a significantly lower genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

They also found that the group had a slightly lower genetic risk for heart disease compared to controls. Although the research team has not found one single variant to explain the healthy lifespan and absence of chronic diseases in Wellderly participants, they did find several genetic variants that were disproportionately represented in the group, which gives other scientists fuel for more research.

Ultimately, the findings in this study reveal that healthy aging is associated with a disease-protective profile. And as the research team notes, age-associated chronic diseases account for 90% of deaths in industrialized nations. By helping to prevent these diseases, society can reduce health care costs, lower the number of people suffering with disabilities in old age and promote independence and healthspan.

The Scripps Translational Science Institute is a site sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and led by Scripps Health in collaboration with The Scripps Research Institute. For more information on the Wellderly study, watch the video below!