Good news for Dorian Gray and anyone else who's willing to go to great lengths to hold onto their youth — older people are actually getting younger, according to a new study. No, if you're 65, you won't magically actually turn 64 on your birthday.
But, older people's physical and cognitive functions have improved dramatically in the last 30 years. The saying "50 is the new 30" isn't just a saying anymore.
The study was conducted at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. They compared the physical and cognitive abilities of people today between the ages of 75 and 80 with people of the same age group from the 1990s.
The principal investigator of the study, Professor Taina Rantanen, said, "Performance-based measurements describe how older people manage in their daily life, and at the same time, the measurements reflect one's functional age."
Participants were tested on their "muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, verbal fluency, reasoning, and working memory," and all of those proved to be "significantly better" today than they were in the 1990s.
The only piece that did not report much difference in the two groups was lung function. Doctoral student Kaisa Koivunen said, "Higher physical activity and increased body size explained the better walking speed and muscle strength among the later-born cohort, whereas the most important underlying factor behind the cohort differences in cognitive performance was longer education."
This makes sense. More elderly people alive today probably finished high school and went to college. Matti Munukka, a postdoctoral researcher on the study, emphasized that elderly people who are alive today grew up "in a difference world" than elderly people from 30 years ago.
The 1990s might not seem like that far away for some, but there have been many advances in health science and technology since then. The study cites some of these "favorable changes," listing "better nutrition and hygiene, improvements in health care and the school system, better accessibility to education, and improved working life."
In addition to increased life expectancy, the results of this study suggest that elderly people today have "an increased number of years lived with good functional ability later in life." This is good news!
This study was fairly unique because there aren't many that have been able to observe these performance-based measures in people from two completely different eras.
The study concludes, "The results suggest that our understanding of older age is old-fashioned. From an aging researcher's point of view, more years are added to midlife, and no so much to the utmost end of life. Increased life expectancy provides us with more non-disabled years, but at the same time, the last years of life comes at higher and higher ages, increasing the need for care.
"Among the aging population, two simultaneous changes are happening: continuation of healthy years to higher ages and an increased number of very old people who need external care." This is a potential downside to new longevity. More and more very old people need care in a time when our health care systems maybe haven't caught up to that reality.