In findings that challenge traditional medical treatment of the elderly, a nine-year study of New Yorkers has found that the kinds and amounts of cholesterol in blood remain important to health and longevity even for people in their 70s and 80s.
Based on findings in the Bronx Aging Study, the researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, concluded that people in their eighth and ninth decades should be screened for cholesterol abnormalities.
In the new study, the 350 participants -- healthy men and women from 75 to 85 years old at the beginning -- were followed for an average of more than six years.
All were tested upon enrollment for the various types of fats and cholesterol in the blood and were retested one or more times during the first five years of the study.
The health status of the participants was evaluated annually and all incidents of heart attack and other heart diseases, stroke, dementia and death were recorded.
By starting with people more than 75 years old, the researchers effectively eliminated those who were presumably most sensitive to the health effects of abnormal cholesterol levels.
Such people would either have died before their 75th birthday or would have already been afflicted with one of the diseases under study and therefore would not have been eligible to participate.
The new findings suggest that even in relatively resistant adults, abnormal levels of blood fats and cholesterol continue to affect health even near the end of the life span.
During the course of the study, 81 participants suffered heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular disorders, 70 developed dementia and 112 died. The researchers examined the relationship between these occurrences and various measurements of blood fats and cholesterol.
In their report, published Sunday in Arteriosclerosis and Thrombosis, a journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers said that no relationship was found between total cholesterol levels and any of the disorders in question.