Ask elderly people what they fear most and the commonest answer is losing their mind. Many people believe that this is inevitable, particularly the older you get.

Good news, though. That isn’t true, as a recent study* has shown.

Danish researchers compared the data for two groups of older people. One group, all people born in 1915, were studied when they were 95 years old. The second group – of people born in 1905 – had been studied previously when they were 93 years old. The findings were fascinating.

The two groups were similar in physical tests such as hand-grip, standing and walking speed, although the 1915 group were better in tests related to the activities of daily living.

The researchers then used standard methods to assess ‘cognition’ – the brain-based skills everyone uses to deal with everything from the simplest to the most complex processes. The group born in 1915 scored significantly better – even though they were older at the time of assessment. These 95-year-olds had clearer minds than the 93-year-olds born ten years earlier.

The researchers concluded that that more people are living to older ages with better overall functioning.

Incidentally, they also found that those born in 1915 had a 32% greater chance of living longer than those who were born in 1905.


*Link to the study abstract:


As part of a long-term study of ageing, it was found that one in three people over 52 had difficulties reading and understanding instructions on how to use their medicine*.

Researchers tested how well 8,000 participants understood straightforward written instructions and divided them into those who scored well, an intermediate group who made few mistakes and those who did less well. It emerged that the scores worsened as people grew older.

They then went on to look at the mortality risk associated with these different scores. As you might expect, those with the lowest scores had a much increased risk. Is this because these people don’t understand what they need to do to maintain their health? Or because they are less well off? Or perhaps, as shown by studies in the United States, they are simply not making use of what’s available to help them.

Whatever the explanation, there’s a clear message here for doctors, nurses and pharmacists. There need to be better methods for communicating with a significant proportion of the publication. This will gain in importance as the average age of the population increases, treatments become more complicated, and an increasing number of people develop long-term diseases in their later years.

*Link to study (BMJ 2012;344:e1602)


Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

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