ARCHIVE - Life in very old age: centenarian research


Despite population projections estimate that over 3 million individuals will reach age 100 in 2050 worldwide, centenarians represent an underserved and understudied population. As centenarians have mostly been investigated in the context of demographic and medical studies, there is a striking lack of research with respect to describing the challenges very old individuals and their families encounter as well as the quality of life at age 100 and its determinants. In 2010, we started a series of international centenarian studies with the goal to investigate life conditions of centenarians including their difficulties (e.g., health issues), their social support system (e.g., informal care), their psychological strengths (e.g., meaning in life), as well as well-being indicators (e.g., well-being). Besides considering the personal resources and risks of the centenarians, we also investigate the relationship with their immediate social context, specifically, with their children who are most involved in their care. Furthermore, we consider the societal and cultural context by comparing centenarians from different countries. Using population based samples, quantitative as well as qualitative assessment, and parallel design and measures across countries, we aim at gaining a more differentiated view on very old age in order to create a more realistic picture of this very advanced age, to determine cultural and societal characteristics involved in shaping life at very old age, and to identify positive potential for development in old age and successful aging. So far, our network of centenarian studies includes the Second Heidelberg Centenarian Study (Heidelberg, Germany; Jopp, Rott, Boerner & Kruse), the Fordham Centenarian Study (New York, USA) as well as the Oporto Centenarian Study (PI: Profs. Oscar Ribeiro, Constanza Paul and colleagues, UNIBAS Oporto). Other collaborations involve Japan (Prof. Yasuyuki Gondo, Osaka University) and China (Prof. Yuan Zhao, Prof. Hong Fu, Nanjing Normal University, and Dr. Danan Gu, United Nations). A new study is planned for Switzerland. The long-term goal of our studies is to develop culturally sensitive models of successful aging in very old age as well as prevention and intervention efforts that help individuals and their families to optimally handle the challenges of very old age.