• centenarians;
  • longevity;
  • successful aging;
  • dementia;
  • comorbidity

OBJECTIVE: To assess the prevalence of common illnesses in an unselected population of centenarians.

DESIGN: A population-based survey.

SETTING: Denmark.

PARTICIPANTS: All Danes who celebrated their 100th anniversary between April 1, 1995 and May 31, 1996: 276 persons.

MEASUREMENTS: All participants (including proxies) were visited at their domicile for an interview (sociodemographic characteristics, activities of daily living, living conditions, need of assistance from other people, former health and current diseases, current medication) and a clinical examination (dementia screening test, heart and lung auscultation, neurological assessment, height and weight, electrocardiogram, arm and ankle blood pressure, assessment of hearing and vision capacity, a short physical performance test, bio-impedance, lung function test, blood test). Further health information was retrieved from medical files and national health registers.

RESULTS: Seventy-five percent (207) of eligible subjects participated in the study. Cardiovascular disease was present in 149 (72%) subjects. Osteoarthritis (major joints) was present in 54%, hypertension (≥140/≥90) in 52%, dementia in 51%, and ischemic heart disease in 28%. The mean number of illness was 4.3 (standard deviation (SD) 1.86). Only one subject was identified as being free from any chronic condition or illness. Sixty percent had been treated for illness with high mortality. In 25 autonomous (nondemented, functioning well physically, living at home) and 182 nonautonomous centenarians, comorbidities were equivalent.

CONCLUSION: Because they have a high prevalence of several common diseases and chronic conditions, Danish centenarians are not healthy. However, a minor proportion was identified as being cognitively intact and functioning well.