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December 1994

Neurologic Evaluation of the Optimally Healthy Oldest Old

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurology, the Portland (Oregon) Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Drs Kaye, D. Howieson, and Mss Holm and Dennison) and Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland (Drs Kaye, Oken, D. Howieson, and J. Howieson).

Arch Neurol. 1994;51(12):1205-1211. doi:10.1001/archneur.1994.00540240049015

Objective:  Individuals aged 85 years or older (the "oldest old") are the fastest-growing age group in the United States. Because there is little information characterizing expected neurologic function in this group, our goal was to determine clinical neurologic traits characteristic of the optimally healthy oldest old.

Design:  Standardized neurologic evaluation findings of optimally healthy persons older than 84 years compared with those of equally healthy control subjects aged 65 to 74 years.

Setting:  Community-based, longitudinal aging study.

Participants:  Community-residing, consecutively recruited volunteers who were screened for the absence of chronic disease or medication use.

Main Outcome Measure:  Standardized neurologic exanimation coded into ordinal or interval variables.

Results:  Significant between-group differences were greatest for tests of mental status, sensory function (ie, smell, hearing, vibratory discrimination, and stereognosis), oculomotor function, distal movement speed, and balance. Discriminant function analysis suggests that of these changes, membership in the oldest group is best predicted by poor performance on clinical tests of balance (heel-toe walking and one-leg balancing with eyes closed), smell, and visual pursuit.

Conclusions:  Many neurologic signs appear with aging that cannot be attributed to disease, even in the very old. Deficits in balance, olfaction, and visual pursuit discriminate best between the aging changes of the healthy very old and changes seen in younger elderly persons.