Whether you’re selling long-term care insurance (LTCI), ordinary medical insurance, Medicare supplement insurance, disability insurance, annuities, houses, or dry goods, you face the same challenge: Your clients and prospects are getting older.
Most of us have known our parents, and most of us have known our grandparents. We all think we know something about aging. We all know it’s one of those inevitable things.
Then there’s Bradley Willcox.
He’s a University of Hawaii medical school faculty member who, with his brother, Dr. Craig Willcox, are the co-principal investigators at the Okinawa Centenarian Study. They’re conducting many different aging-related studies based in part on the centerian study findings.
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Genworth Financial Inc. (NYSE:GNW) recently named him to a new National Advisory Center for Long-Term Care Information (NALTCI).
He’s using the tools of science to look aging in a different light, and coming up with interesting ideas. Such as the possibility that improving our cellular machinery could at least slow the aging process for some, and that salmon may be even better for you than you think it is.
For a look at more of his thoughts about what people in the insurance community should know about the science of aging, read on.
1. Scientists are still scrambling some basic questions about aging.
One obvious question is whether people who reach age 100 spend, on average, fewer years with problems the activities of daily living (ADLs) than other people, more years with problems with ADLs, or about the same number of years with ADL problems.
Giving that question a good answer is difficult, because it requires following a large group of people over many years, Willcox said.
Willcox said that his team and others may soon have the data they need to analyze the relationship between extreme longevity and the need for long-term care (LTC) services.
2. The Mediterraneans aren’t the only people in the world who know how to eat.
Researchers like finding relatively isolated, genetically similar groups of people who lead similar lifestyles. Following what those groups of people do over a long period of time can help researchers identify factors that can make a difference in people’s health, even after they adjust as well as they can for factors that could throw off comparisons.
Genetics researchers have been studying the DNA of people in Iceland for years, for example.
Nutrition researchers have looked at people in the Mediterranean region and come up with the concept of the Mediterranean diet: the idea that eating fish, cheese, olive oil, and fresh fruits and vegetables is particularly good for health.
Willcox, who is co-principal investigator of the Okinawa Centenarian Study with his brother, Dr. Craig Willcox, has been using data on Okinawans to investigate many different aging-related matters, such as how diet affects vulnerability to conditions such as lung cancer and colon cancer.
The study leaders have observed that the Okinawans have traditionally eaten a diet that is much different from the Mediterranean diet, and is much lower in fat, but that it is also a low-calorie, moderate-sodium diet made up of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, and that the diet itself may help promote good health and longevity.
3. Worms get old, too.
Human beings take a long time to age, and they resist living according to the strict rules that could help scientists filter true cause-and-effect relationships from interesting coincidences.
Willcox and colleagues have studied the genes that seem to regulate the lifespans of organisms such as mice and roundworms, then tried to see whether similar versions of the genes that happen to be present in human beings have similar effects on the human lifespan.
The cells in all known creatures on Earth store information in strands of DNA. Each strand is made up of the equivalent of four different kinds of beads: amino acids called adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine.
Cells use protein mechanisms called transcription factors to lock onto DNA and control whether and how quickly the cells act on the instructions encoded in the DNA. Scientists have discovered a family of transcription factor proteins, the “Forkhead box” (FOXO) proteins, with a V-shaped top.
In the C. elegans roundworm, one protein in the FOXO family, FOXO3A, seems to protect the worms from all sorts of stress, Willcox said.