Comparison of cognitive and physical functioning of Europeans in 2004-05 and 2013

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Background: Adult mortality has been postponed over time to increasingly high ages. However, evidence on past and current health trends has been mixed, and little is known about European disability trends. Methods: In a cross-sectional setting, we compared cognitive and physical functioning in same-aged Europeans aged 50þ between 2004–05 (wave 1; n ¼ 18 757) and 2013 (wave 5 refresher respondents; n ¼ 16 696), sourced from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Results: People in 2013 had better cognitive function compared with same-aged persons in 2004–05, with an average difference of approximately one-third standard deviation. The same level of cognitive function in 2004–05 at age 50 was found in 2013 for people who were 8 years older. There was an improvement in cognitive function in all European regions. Mean grip strength showed an improvement in Northern Europe of 1.00 kg [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.65; 1.35] and in Southern Europe of 1.68 kg (95% CI 1.14; 2.22), whereas a decrease was found in Central Europe (-0.80 kg; 95% CI 1.16; 0.44). We found no overall differences in activities of daily living (ADL), but small improvements in instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) in Northern and Southern Europe, with an improvement in both ADL and IADL from age 70 in Northern Europe. Conclusions: Our results indicate that later-born Europeans have substantially better cognitive functioning than earlier-born cohorts. For physical functioning, improvements were less clear, but for Northern Europe there was an improvement in ADL and IADL in the oldest age groups.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1518-1528
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • Activities of daily living
  • Cognitive function
  • Cohort differences
  • Europe
  • Grip strength


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