Born equal, die unique
The older we get, the more different we become, contends a study that followed people from their 70th to their 90th year of life.

"Old people are usually thought of as a rather homogeneous group - they are considered to be ill, lonely and unable to take care of themselves. But the truth is that the differences among people grow with age," says Bo G. Eriksson, University of Gothenburg, whose study of randomly selected individuals born in 1901 and 1902 focuses on their 70th to their 90th years.

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"The perception of old people having similar interests, values and lifestyles can lead to age discrimination. However, I found that, as people age, these stereotypes become more and more untrue," says Eriksson.

Eriksson also studied differences in causes of death with increasing age, and again found indications of possible age discrimination. Noting that social conditions affect longevity, and found that promises and agreements strengthen individual identities. Another factor relates to how a person builds and maintains self esteem by successfully responding to challenges. Furthermore, everyday conversations which decrease anxiety and offer decision making support improve attention and give the brain and memory healthy exercise.

Five different groups of 70-year-olds have so far been assessed, and a number of trends in mental and physical health have been identified. In addition, some groups have been followed longitudinally over three decades. The study is coordinated by several research groups at the University of Gothenburg.