90 is the New 80

Elderly seniors scored better on mental function tests than those a decade older

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) There’s good news in the health world for aging seniors. People in their mid 90s may be staying sharper nowadays compared to previous generations.

A recent study tested the physical and mental function of two groups of people in their early to mid 90s.

The results showed people born in 1915 did better on mental tests than those born in 1905, while both groups did about the same on the physical tests.

According to the researchers, there could be a number of reasons why mental function has improved among this age group. These include improvements in health care, nutrition and living conditions.

"Stay active and stimulated throughout life."

Kaare Christensen, MD, PhD, professor at the Danish Aging Research Center at the University of Southern Denmark, led this investigation into the physical and mental functioning of people over 90 years of age.

Over time, and in part thanks to innovations in modern medicine, more people have been living longer, according to Dr. Christensen and colleagues.

These researchers surveyed two sets of older adults in Denmark. The first survey, which was done in 1998, included 2,262 people who were born in 1905. The second survey, which was done in 2010, included 1,584 people who were born in 1915.

The adults in the second survey were an average of 2.2 years older than the adults in the first survey. The chance of living to see 95 years of age was 32 percent higher in adults born in 1915 compared to those born in 1905.

As part of the survey, the researchers tested physical performance, thinking abilities and depression in the older adults.

The physical tests included rising from a chair, handgrip strength and walking speed.

The thinking test had questions dealing with basic math, memory and understanding.

The results of the testing showed 53 percent of adults born in 1905 could stand up from sitting in a chair without the use of the chair arms, compared to 47 percent of adults born in 1915.

Handgrip strength was very similar between the two groups. On average, those born in 1905 could walk 3 meters in 6.5 seconds, compared to 6.1 seconds by those born in 1915.

On a scale from 0 to 30, where higher scores mean better thinking abilities, the adults born in 1915 scored an average of 22.8 points on the thinking abilities test. The adults born in 1905 scored an average of 21.4 points on the thinking abilities test.

Of the adults born in 1915, 23 percent scored between 28 and 30 points on the thinking assessment, which was labeled a maximum score. Among those born in 1905, only 13 percent achieved a maximum score on the thinking assessment.

Depression scores were similar between the two groups.

The two groups were also given a daily living assessment, which scored participation in everyday activities like paying bills, taking medications, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, shopping and food preparation.

People with high-level daily living functioning and independence would score an 8, while those with total dependence on others would score a 0.

Overall functioning in daily living scores were slightly higher among the adults born in 1915 than in those born in 1905 (2.0 points versus 1.8 points, respectively).

The researchers suggested that improvements in health care, nutrition, work environments, mental stimulation and living conditions might explain why those born in 1915 did better on the mental functioning tests compared to those born earlier in 1905.

This study was published in July in The Lancet.

The Danish National Research Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health (the National Institute on Aging), the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, and VELUX Foundation. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 10, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013