Today’s 90-somethings are the sharpest there have ever been as older people’s health improves dramatically. Research, published on www.dailymail.co.uk contradicts the notion that a longer old age brings more ill health. Danish scientists looked at test groups born in 1905 and 1915, those born in 1915 were sharper and also found everyday tasks easier. So if you seem to be spending more and more time fretting about your pension, here’s something to cheer you up. Not only are we living longer, we are also getting wiser.
The research, published in the Lancet Medical Journal, contradicts the perception that a longer old age will inevitably bring with it more ill health. The Danish researchers said: ‘If this development continues, the future functional problems and care needs of very elderly people might be less than are anticipated.’ In other words, we may be able to look forward to a long and healthy old age.
Professor Kaare Christensen, of the University of Southern Denmark, analysed data on two large groups of Danes. One set was born in 1905, and the other in 1915. When they reached their mid-90s they were put through a battery of mental and physical tests, designed to assess factors including memory, grip strength and how easy they found it to walk outside. Those born in 1915 were two years older when they were tested – yet did better. And a memory test used to diagnose Alzheimer’s also posed fewer problems for the 90-somethings born later.
The researchers said the difference could not simply be attributed to improvements in education. Instead, they believe brain power has been boosted by a variety of factors, including better medical care, improved living conditions, healthier diet and greater intellectual stimulation. Those born later may also be benefiting from better mobility aids, including ramps and walking frames.
Professor Christensen said: ‘The study challenges speculations that the improving longevity is the result of the survival of very frail and disabled elderly people. Our results suggest that the functioning of people who reach their 90s is improving in Denmark, and increasing longevity associated with improved living conditions and healthcare may result in not just longer lives, but also that the elderly are functioning better for longer than in earlier generations.’
In an accompanying article, experts in geriatric medicine from the Radboud University Medical Centre in Holland agreed. They said: ‘The expectation of a continuing sharp rise in dementia prevalence in populations older than 80 or 90 years plays an important part in the alarming predictions about the future global burden of dementia. But the evidence for improved cognition at very old age provided by Christensen and colleagues challenges this.’
But there is one note of caution. Professor Christensen said more research is needed to confirm that his findings apply outside Denmark.
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