An Age Old Advantage?

Healthy aging in two centuries of Swedish and Dutch long-lived families (1813-2021) – Funded by the National Bank of Sweden (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond)

A growing part of the population lives to an increasingly high age, but the years spent in good physical and mental health – the healthy life expectancy – lags behind. To reduce societal health care costs, increase well-being of the elderly, and increase the healthy life span it is of crucial importance to study the mechanisms of healthy aging. We study long-lived families which are characterized by multiple generations of exceptional survival and health in old age to establish which mechanisms contribute to healthy aging within the changing disease environment of the past centuries. The purpose of the project is to study the changing contribution of mechanisms related to socioeconomic resources, life style, and familial robustness to exceptional survival and healthy aging.

We use a unique combination of sources: For Sweden, historical parish registers linked to modern national register data and for the Netherlands survey and medical data covering medical diagnoses, lifestyle and biomarker information collected among individuals from long-lived families. Using historical records, we identify members of long-lived families. We study their survival during epidemic disease outbreaks and their causes of death historically until today. We further study hospitalization and morbidity trajectories. The interdisciplinary project generates new insights into the mechanisms of healthy aging and moves beyond existing research by focusing on familial factors in healthy aging.

The project is executed together with Niels van den Berg at Leiden University Medical Centre. Niels, co-applicant in the research proposal, focuses on long-lived families in the Netherlands. I am PI of the project and investigate long-run changes in the determinants of longevity and healthy ageing using Swedish historical records and contemporary register data.

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