OBJECTIVES: To describe the functional capacity and self-rated health of a large cohort of nonagenarians.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional survey of all Danes born in 1905 (92–93 years of age), carried out August to October 1998.
SETTING: Participants' homes.
PARTICIPANTS: Two thousand two hundred and sixty-two nonagenarians, corresponding to a participation rate of 63% (of these, 20% participated by proxy).
MEASUREMENTS: Activities of daily living (ADLs) and self-rated health were assessed by interview. Five items from Katz's ADLs (bathing, dressing, transfer, toileting, and eating) were used to construct a three-level five-item ADL scale (not disabled (no disabilities), moderately disabled (1–2 disabilities), severely disabled (3–5 disabilities)). From responses to a more extensive list of questions on ADLs (26 items), we identified scales of strength and agility by means of factor analysis. Furthermore, a 26-item ADL scale was made. Physical performance tests (chair stand, timed walk, lifting a 2.7 kg box, maximum grip-strength, and flexibility tests) were performed among nonproxy responders.
RESULTS: According to the five-item ADL scale, 50% of the men and 41% of the women were categorized as not disabled, while 19% and 22%, respectively, were categorized as severely disabled. The five-item ADL scale correlated highly with the 26-item ADL scale (r = 0.83). The ADL scales showed moderate-to-good correlation with each other (r = 0.74–0.83), and with the physical performance tests (r = 0.31–0.58). Only 3.7% of the women and 6.3% of the men walked (normal pace) with a speed of at least 1 meter per second, which is the minimum walking speed required to cross signaled intersections in Denmark. A total of 56% considered their health to be excellent or good. Of the participants, 74% were always or almost always satisfied with their lives, even though only 45% reported that they “felt well enough to do what they wanted.” The analyses showed that no single ADL item seemed to be of particular importance for how the participants rated their health.
CONCLUSION: The Danish 1905 cohort survey is the largest and the only nationwide survey of a whole birth-cohort of nonagenarians. A total of 2,262 fairly nonselected nonagenarians participated. The level of both self-reported disability and functional limitations measured by physical performance tests among nonagenarians was high. Despite their lower mortality, women were more disabled than men and did not perform as well as men in the physical performance tests. Nevertheless, the majority of the participants considered their health to be good and were satisfied with their lives.