Skip to main content
Family of four plays at the beach with coastline in background

Living to age 90 and beyond

February 26, 2015 | Camila Hernandez
Seniors playing with a puzzle

What allows people to live 90 and beyond? Believe it or not, drinking the occasional cup of coffee or glass of wine may be one of the ways to increase your life expectancy.

Alcohol and coffee longevity role

According to UC Irvine’s trailblazing 90+ Study, people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee live longer than those who abstain. Co-directed by UCI Health geriatric neurologist Dr. Claudia Kawas, the 90+ Study is the longest continuing research effort focused exclusively on the distinctive health and lifestyle issues of Americans in their 90s or older.

Launched in 2003 and based at the Clinic for Aging Research & Education in Laguna Woods, Calif., the study collects clinical, pathological and genetic information on more than 1,600 participants. Kawas and her team of researchers look at the types of food, activities and lifestyles are associated with living longer.

“Before the 90+ Study, we knew very little about individuals over 90 because they have been systematically excluded from diagnostic criteria in most studies of aging and dementia,” Kawas says.

Dementia after 90

The research, twice featured on 60 Minutes, also focuses on dementia in people over age 90. More than 40 percent of people 90 and older suffer from dementia, but about half of them do not have sufficient Alzheimer’s-related plaque growth in their brain to explain their cognitive loss. Kawas’ research is looking at other factors that could cause dementia.

“Currently, dementia in the U.S. costs far more than cancer and heart disease combined. The work that we are doing to learn more about dementia is so important.” Kawas says.

Accommodating an older population

Although there are nearly 2 million nonagenarians – people in their 90s – in the U.S., that number is projected to increase to 10 million to 12 million by the middle of the century, raising concerns that the current healthcare system may not be able to accommodate this population.

“We are living longer than we ever lived before in the history of the world and this is making a profound change, not only in healthcare or medicine, but also with social and economic factors,” says Kawas.

Related Stories