Independence Declines Modestly at Advanced Ages

In general, independence fell slightly in subjects' 90s, but high mortality rates affect individual risk

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Among the oldest elderly, the numbers of those who remain independent declines only modestly in their 90s by one measure, according to research published online Aug. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Kaare Christensen, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, and colleagues analyzed data from the cohort of Danish residents who were born in 1905 and were surveyed in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2005. The researchers assessed their physical and cognitive functioning and other outcomes.

Across these assessments, the proportion of independent participants declined from 39 percent to 33 percent, although there was a high rate of mortality for the most disabled at any given time, the report indicates. As a result, for those who survived until 2005, the prevalence of independence declined from 70 percent to 33 percent during this period.

"Considerable concern has emerged during the last decades about effects of the so-called 'fourth age' for humans, because a substantial number of individuals in each birth cohort can be expected to survive into their 90s. It has been postulated that life extension would provide only increased chances of being frail and existing in a vegetative state, with huge personal and societal costs. Our study does not support this grim prediction. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the characteristics of a cohort do not change much in an age range from 92 to 100 years in central domains such as physical and cognitive functions and depression symptomatology," the authors write.

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