Findings show exceptional longevity runs in families

At ages 102 and 104, Bessie and Sadie Delany were probably the most unlikely pair of authors in history. Yet in 1993, they produced a best-selling oral history, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years. "Sadie," Bessie once asked, "do you suppose we're ever going to die?" Reflecting on that question after Bessie died in 1995, Sadie wrote, "It did seem rather peculiar both of us living past 100, outliving everybody around us." But new research suggests the Delany sisters' extraordinarily long lives weren't just a fluke of nature.

In fact, brothers and sisters of centenarians are much more apt to survive to age 100 than other people and have lower mortality rates throughout life, according to a study* published in the June 11, 2002 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The finding, the latest in a series of studies supported by the National Institute on Aging, (NIA) that have found certain families are predisposed to long lives, could be a major clue in the effort to demystify exceptional longevity.

In the study, Thomas Perls, M.D., director of the New England Centenarian Study in Boston, John Wilmoth, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley, and other researchers analyzed data collected from 444 families that had at least one member living to age 100 or older. According to the analysis, sisters of centenarians had about one-half the risk of dying at any given age compared to the national average. Brothers of centenarians had similarly low mortality rates, except during the teenage years and young adulthood. These decreased mortality rates greatly enhanced the odds that siblings of centenarians would become centenarians themselves. Compared to the general population, brothers of centenarians were 17 times more likely to achieve age 100, and sisters were at least eight times more likely to reach this age.

"This striking finding provides further evidence that centenarians and their relatives are

Contact: Doug Dollemore
NIH/National Institute on Aging

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