Compared to their counterparts twenty years ago, today’s 65-year-olds not only feel younger but are generally healthier overall - and enjoy greater life satisfaction. That is just one of the latest results of the Interdisciplinary Longitudinal Study on Adult Development and Aging (ILSE) that was launched in 1993 at the Institute of Gerontology at Heidelberg University. The latest round of data collection was recently completed. The participating scientists, including researchers from Heidelberg University Hospital and the University of Leipzig, will present their findings at the Heidelberg Symposium on Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Social Psychiatry at the end of October 2017.
The study is unique in that its subjects come from two birth cohorts, born either between 1930 and 1932 or 1950 and 1952, thus allowing the researchers to track them in parallel and compare the two. The study covers an extremely broad range of health and well-being related parameters and takes into account life events along with psychological, psychiatric, medical and dental health. The researchers also collected data on sensory performance and activities of daily living. "We found that minor cognitive impairments as a risk syndrome for Alzheimer’s disease are less frequent than in the same age group twenty years ago. We also see an improvement in neuropsychological ability, which reflects better overall health," explains Hans-Werner Wahl from Heidelberg University’s Institute of Psychology.
"The results prove that today’s 65-year-old is physically and mentally more fit. This age group is enjoying an unprecedented level of overall health," states Johannes Schröder, who heads the Section for Gerontopsychiatric Research at Heidelberg University Hospital. The so-called baby boom generation seems to come with greater goal-directness and agency oriented elements, when it comes to their aging, according to Hans-Werner Wahl. Personal attitudes toward ageing also play an important role, which in turn are associated with greater life satisfaction, adds the psychologist. The study also confirms the importance of social relationships for ageing well.
The findings of the interdisciplinary longitudinal study contribute to a better understanding of ageing, particularly the so far underestimated interaction of health and psychological parameters. The researchers are confident that the findings have far-reaching significance for the development of preventive measures that can improve the quality of life in middle-aged and older adults as well as ward off gerontopsychiatric illnesses. "The ILSE data underscore that cognitive reserve built up over a lifetime and physical activity are particularly relevant when mental and functional losses occur in old age. A stimulating and active lifestyle early in life pays off, as it were, late in life," states Dr Christine Sattler of the Institute of Psychology.
The fourth round of data collection of the Interdisciplinary Longitudinal Study on Adult Development and Aging was funded by the Dietmar Hopp Foundation with 400.000 Euro. The data collected offer much to early stage researchers which resulted in six doctoral dissertations and four master’s theses over the recent three years.
The symposium, entitled "Emotional and cognitive aging - practical application of the results of the Interdisciplinary Longitudinal Study on Adult Development and Aging", will present and discuss the current analyses. The event will take place on October 25th in Heidelberg.