More and more Dutch elderly, a sharp mind yet a weak constitution

We already knew that the number of Dutch citizens reaching a ripe old age is increasing. Though, the frequent pairing of these additional life years with a moderate or even bad physical health is less well-known. For the first time, the LASA study focused on aging (collaboration Amsterdam UMC and the VU) has shown that the number of years in good cognitive health does rise among Dutch senior citizens, particularly among women. Between 1993 and 2016, nearly 13.000 measurements among senior citizens were analyzed. The study recently appeared in the American Journal of Public Health.

The Dutch population lives longer. In 1993, the life-expectancy of a 65-year old male was 14.7 years as he was expected to reach an age of 79.7 years. In 2016, a 65-year old male was able to add four more years to that expectation: 83.7 years. The life-expectancy of 65-year old women in 1993 was 19.2 years. In 2016, 65-year old women were expected to reach an age of 86.4 years.

Though, the additional life years are not all spent in good physical health. The number of expected life years with severe health issues has risen from 1.8 in 1993 to 2.9 in 2016 for males. For women, the number has risen from 5.4 years in 1993 to 6.2 years in 2016. There was no indication of a straight ascending line as fluctuations appeared in the measured period of 23 years.

Increase good cognitive health

There is also some positive news: the number of years the Dutch population spends in good cognitive health did continue to rise between 1993 and 2016. For women, the increase was even stronger as opposed to men: from 13.4 to 18.0 (women) versus 11 to 15.7 years (men). The meaning of cognitive health includes matters such as the ability to learn, to remember and to plan.

Never before did one study explore a long trend in both the physical and the cognitive healthy life years of Dutch elderly. Such a combined study offers starting points to estimating the costs for healthcare and long-term care in the future.

In view of the increase in particularly 80-year olds and the necessity to contain costs of healthcare, the Netherlands too have reshaped the system of long-term care. This policy is based on the assumption that less elderly will call upon long-term care as they remain in better health. This study however only supported that with regards to cognitive health.

Source: intranet VUmc