Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brain gain

THOSE LIVING PAST THE AGE OF 90 are stronger and mentally sharper than their predecessors

  • Print

LONDON -- When it comes to brain power, 90 may be the new 80.

Those surviving past the age of 90 today are living longer and are mentally sharper than nonagenarians born a decade earlier, Danish researchers reported.

People born in 1915 were almost a third more likely to reach 95 than those born a decade earlier and on average they performed better on mental tests and in daily living tasks, according to a study published in The Lancet.

The findings are the latest in a small but growing body of evidence that suggests improved nutrition, vaccinations, health care and intellectual stimulation are leading to a better quality of life for the elderly. Among the most intriguing findings of the Danish study is the notion that, should the trend continue, the care needs of very elderly people may be less than now anticipated.

"There's a fear that getting older means many years of living in bad shape with a rather gloomy outlook," Kaare Christensen, the lead study researcher from the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, said. "I'm looking forward to living longer than 90 myself after this study."

The quality of life for the very elderly is a growing concern around the globe. The number of people living to 90 or older more than doubled in the U.S. to 1.5 million in 2010 from 720,000 in 1980. It may swell to 9 million by 2050, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

In the Danish study, stronger, sharper mental agility among today's 90-year-olds was noticed compared with the earlier group. That's significant because improved cognition at very old age goes against expectations there will be a sharp rise in dementia among people over 80, Marcel Olde Rikkert and Rene Melis of Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Nijmegen, Netherlands, wrote in a commentary about the study.

"We have to change our image of aging," Rikkert said.

"It's not being old and decrepit at 90; it's being old and active."

Using the Danish Civil Register System to identify subjects, researchers surveyed 2,262 people born in Denmark in 1905 who were still living in 1998 and 1,584 Danes born in 1915 who were still alive in 2010, at ages of about 93 and 95, respectively.

Researchers used physical and mental tests as well as interviews to measure mental impairment, depression and ability to perform daily tasks. About 20 per cent of the participants weren't able to respond personally due to physical or mental handicaps and were surveyed through a spouse or caretaker.

While the two groups were about the same in terms of physical strength, those in the 1915 group had a better "daily living score," which was based on being able to walk around the house, get upstairs or live alone. Authors suggest the group was also aided by technology such as walking aids, threshold ramps and swivel seats.

"I think it's something we should follow closely because it has a major impact on elder care," Christensen said.

Even after adjusting for education levels, the 1915 group performed better on cognitive tests and had twice the rate of perfect scores. Mental tests included naming as many animals as one can in a minute, repeating a list of 12 words, recalling as many as possible 10 minutes later and repeating four digits forward and backward, The Danish study is the most conclusive evidence yet that the elderly may be in better health than ever. A study from the Netherlands published in the journal Neurology in 2012 showed dementia in people ages 60 to 90 was lower in 2005 than in a similar group in 1990, though the decline wasn't statistically significant.

In Denmark, which has one of the lowest life expectancies in Western Europe, the chance of living beyond 90 has increased by 30 per cent per decade for people born in 1895, 1905 and 1915, the authors said, citing the Human Mortality Database.

While the study suggests people are living better after 90, they have to make it to their 10th decade first, Christensen said. Younger elderly people have more illnesses such as obesity and diabetes, he said.

-- Bloomberg News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 D4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Winnipeg Jet goalie Michael Hutchinson

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you plan on attending any of the CMHR opening weekend events? (select all that apply)

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google