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Neuropsychiatric Epidemiology

Research group
Active research
Project owner
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology

Financier
Forte, Vetenskapsrådet

Short description

The aim of our research is to study health and mental well-being in the elderly.
We are interested in how the elderly in our population feel, and we collect a wide range of data to answer our research questions. The data we collect reflect
- intellectual functions (e.g. memory, language, learning),
- physical factors (e.g. height, weight, blood pressure, brain anatomy),
- mental conditions (e.g. dementia, depression, phobias), and
- genetics.

One important part of our research is the study of change over time. For example, we study how health and well-being look today, compared to 30 years ago. We also follow the population over a long period - up to 40 years - and in this way, can see how their health has changed over time.

Research topics and questions

The research topics and questions that we work with extend across a broad spectrum, and include:

  • How does the health of the elderly today compare with that of 30 years ago?
  • How do our "oldest-old" (i.e. 90 years and older) feel?
  • Is there any relationship between changes in memory and mental well-being as we age?
  • How common is depression among the elderly?
  • How common is depression over the lifespan?
  • How common is suicide or attempted suicide among the elderly?
  • Do older people have an active and well-functioning sex life?
  • Can our genes tell us something about our health as we age?
  • What happens in our brain as we age?
  • Are changes in our brain linked to how we feel during old age?
  • Can we identify factors that may prevent dementia and Alzheimer¿s disease?
  • Can cardiovascular disease cause depression and dementia?
  • How common are psychoses among the elderly?
  • How common are phobias and obsessive-compulsive symptoms among the elderly?

Findings

An overview of some of the results of our research shows the range of the topics that we study:

  • The elderly in the population are feeling increasingly better.
  • The health and mental well-being of the elderly is better today than it was 30 years ago.
  • The "oldest-old¿ (i.e. 90 years and older) feel better than we previously believed.
  • An increasing number of the elderly have sex and are satisfied with their sex lives.
  • Older people today are more happily married than those 30 years ago.
  • Changes in the brain occur during normal aging, and are not always a sign of disease.
  • Education and good health have positive effects related to mental well-being and dementia
  • Dementia illnesses get more common as we grow older.
  • High blood pressure and obesity increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Depression is common, but is rarely discovered by the healthcare system.
  • Good pulmonary function works as a defence against dementia.
  • Depression increases the risk of stroke.
  • Every second woman suffers from depression sometime during her life.
Terminology

In our research, we use the word "older" or "elderly" to refer to people above 65 years old. We also study the "oldest-old", that is, people who are 90 years or older.

Population studies

We work with large epidemiological studies which mean that we study health factors and the incidence and prevalence of illnesses and risk factors in the population. In epidemiological population studies people from the general population are recruited and followed continuously as long as the study goes on.

The intent is to obtain a representative sample of the population and to follow the participants over a long period of time. This provides unique opportunities to study the frequency of diseases in the population, as well as to investigate relationships between the diseases and other health factors.

Our research is entirely dependent on the willingness of the population to participate in the examinations.

The people who have participated in the studies over the course of many years have greatly helped us increase our understanding of health and well-being among the elderly, which we could not have obtained without the population studies.

The population studies that we participate in are the following:

Health 70 (H70)

Started in1971 with the recruitment of 392 70-year-olds born in 1901-02. The participants were followed for 30 years. A new study of 70-year-olds born in 1930 started in 2000. These participants were followed-up when they reached 75 years, and will be examined again when they are 79 years old.

The H85 study

Started in 1985 with the recruitment of 494 85-year-olds born in 1901-02. The participants were followed for 20 years. A new study of 85-year-olds born in 1923-24 started in 2009.

95+

Started in 1996, and by 2008, a total of 900 participants had been recruited. To the best of our knowledge this study is the largest epidemiological study in the world of elderly above the age of 95 years.

Women's study in Gothenburg

Started in 1968 with the recruitment of 1,462 women between the ages of 38 and 60 years. The most recent follow-up was done in 2005-06; 37 years after the study was initiated. A new follow-up will begin in 2009.

Sahlgrenska suicide studies

Started in 2000. Study of the risk factors for suicide and attempted suicide.