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BMJ. 2009 Dec 22;339:b4904. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b4904.

Health and disease in 85 year olds: baseline findings from the Newcastle 85+ cohort study.

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  • 1Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 5PL.



The Newcastle 85+ Study aims to systematically study the clinical, biological, and psychosocial attributes of an unselected cohort of 85 year olds and to examine subsequent health trajectories as the cohort ages; health at baseline is reported.


Cross sectional analysis of baseline data from a cohort study.


Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside primary care trusts, United Kingdom.


1042 people born in 1921 and registered with the participating general practices.


Detailed health assessment and review of general practice records (disease, medication, and use of general practice services); participants could decline elements of the protocol.


Of the 1453 eligible people, 851 (58.6%) were recruited to health assessment plus record review, 188 (12.9%) to record review only, and 3 (0.2%) to health assessment only. Data from record review are reported on a maximum of 1030 and from health assessment on a maximum of 853; individual denominators differ owing to withdrawal and missing values. Of the health assessment sample (n=853), 62.1% (n=530) were women and 10.4% (n=89) were in institutional care. The most prevalent diseases were hypertension (57.5%, 592/1030) and osteoarthritis (51.8%, 534/1030). Moderate or severe cognitive impairment was present in 11.7% (96/824) of participants, severe or profound urinary incontinence in 21.3% (173/813), hearing impairment in 59.6% (505/848), and visual impairment in 37.2% (309/831). Health assessment identified participants with possible disease but without a previous diagnosis in their medical record for hypertension (25.1%, 206/821), ischaemic heart disease (12.6%, 99/788), depression (6.9%, 53/772), dementia (6.7%, 56/840), and atrial fibrillation (3.8%, 30/788). Undiagnosed diabetes mellitus and thyroid disease were rare (1%, 7/717 and 6/762, respectively). A median of 3 (interquartile range 1-8) activities of daily living were undertaken with difficulty. Overall, 77.6% (646/832) of participants rated their health compared with others of the same age as good, very good, or excellent. High contact rates in the previous year with general practitioners (93.8%, 960/1024) were recorded. Women had significantly higher disease counts (medians: women 5, men 4; P=0.033) and disability scores (medians: women 4, men 2; P=0.0006) than men, but were less likely to have attended outpatient clinics in the previous three months (women 29% (150/524), men 37% (118/320), odds ratio 0.7, 95% confidence interval 0.5 to 0.9).


This large cohort of 85 year olds showed good levels of both self rated health and functional ability despite significant levels of disease and impairment. Hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, depression, and dementia may be underdiagnosed. Notable differences were found between the sexes: women outnumbered men and had more disease and disability.

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