The centenarians of the 100-plus study keep their head high

How are centenarians doing during the corona crisis? Neuropsychologist Kimberley van Vliet contacted six participants of the 100-plus study and asked them how they experience this period. Van Vliet mentions: “What struck me was their loneliness, but they all remain positive, and in addition they have tips to get through these days. "

A century of life experience, that must count in order to cope with such a special period as we are facing today. COVID-19 is not the only official pandemic experienced by the centenarians. They experienced the Asian flu in the 1950s and the Hong Kong flu in the late 1960s. The oldest even faced the Spanish flu, which claimed millions of lives worldwide, including 38,000 in the Netherlands.

Kimberley van Vliet, researcher affiliated with Amsterdam Neuroscience, contacted some participants of the 100-plus study about their memories of the Spanish flu and their experiences during the current pandemic. For five years now, the special cohort of people over the age of 100 has been followed by researchers from the Amsterdam UMC. The scientists want to know how it is possible for some to age healthily, without signs of dementia. Read more about the 100-plus study and the team leader Henne Holstege in our Magazine of 2019.

The oldest participant who spoke on the phone with researcher Van Vliet is 106. She was five years old when the Spanish flu was prevalent, but has no vivid memories. Van Vliet: “Some remember that it was very bad and one of the participants told that her father had the flu. But they did not remember government measures.” However, the government took measures, for example: schools were closed in some municipalities; homes and other buildings had to be aired regularly; church services were cut short, and you had to avoid crowds of people. “Incidentally, it is not surprising that the centenarians do not remember the measurements or the flu. At that time, people spoke less about the Spanish flu than about the current corona pandemic. It was a different time: only a few had a telephone, there was no TV and many people did not even leave their own village.”

That is totally different now. The elderly people are greatly restricted in their freedom of movement. Some of the interviewees live in a nursing home, others still independently in a senior citizens residence or with the help of home care or family. They all find it difficult. They feel lonely because they are deprived of social contacts. It is not possible to do your own groceries or drink a cup of coffee with the neighbors. 103-year-old Mrs. Smit said that she lives in a care home where the corona virus is prevalent. Van Vliet: "She was very sad, because everyone has to stay in their room and the food is put at the door." The call from the researcher was therefore very welcome to some, she noted. Despite the loneliness, the centenarians are still keeping their head up high. It can always get worse: “Just look at the people who currently live in a refugee camp,” says 101-year-old Mrs. Van Dijk.

The centenaries have enough tips to make the most of it. Van Vliet: “Remember fun events, which makes you happy. Be active indoors and try not to grumble. Do not continuously watch the news and stay positive.” 106-year-old Ms. Janssen urged the researcher: "Everything comes to an end, including this misery." And if Van Vliet can add something on a personal level: “Send the elderly people a card or give them a call. You make them very happy with that.”

* The names of the centenarians have been fictitious in connection with their privacy.

Group photo taken during the annual meeting of the participants of the 100-plus study in 2019. Group photo taken during the annual meeting of the participants of the 100-plus study in 2019.

Source: Amsterdam UMC (in Dutch)

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