Researchers found that on tests of mental abilities, a group of 95-year-old Danes scored better than a group of Danes born 10 years earlier, who had been tested when they were about the same age.
In a standard simple test, for example, 23 percent of them scored in the highest category, compared to 13 percent of the earlier-born group. Out of the 30 questions and tasks, members of the later-born group averaged two more correct responses than the earlier-born group did. The results were released Wednesday by the journal Lancet.
Why the better mental performance? It wasn't just better education, but beyond that the researchers could only guess at things like more intellectual stimulation and better diets earlier in life.
More people are living to such old ages. The U.S. census counted 425,000 Americans age 95 and older in 2010, a 26 percent increase over the total in 2000.
The mental testing compared 1,814 elderly Danes examined in 1998 to the later-born group of 1,247 Danes tested in 2010. The researchers also found that later-born Danes were better able to carry out basic living tasks like getting out of bed or a chair. So they were functioning better overall, the study concluded.
Lead author Dr. Kaare Christensen, head of the Danish Aging Research Center at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, said he imagines that in the future, Danes who live into their 90s will continue to be better off than their predecessors. He was cautious about applying the results to the United States, although he said the availability of education in the U.S. after World War II would be a plus.
Dr. James Pacala, associate head of the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, who didn't participate in the study, said he suspects the same trends are present in the United States.
He also said the findings fit with previous work that shows people are functioning better at given ages than they used to.
But Pacala, who heads the board of the American Geriatrics Society, noted that even in the better-functioning group of Danes, at least 40 percent and probably more had dementia.
Denise Park, an expert in mental function and aging at the University of Texas in Dallas, called the mental test results provocative but said it's not clear why the differences appeared. She said she would want to know if the effect holds up for 80-year-olds as well.
"If it's real, it should," she said.
Research is growing with high-tech gadgets that promise new safety nets for seniors determined to live on their own for as long as possible.
"It's insurance in case something should happen," is how Bob Harrison, 85, describes the unobtrusive monitors being tested in his apartment at the TigerPlace retirement community in Columbia, Mo.
Living at home - specialists call it aging in place - is what most people want for their later years. Americans 40 and older are just as worried about losing their independence later in life as they are about losing their memory, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Common-sense interventions like grab bars in bathrooms and taping down rugs to prevent tripping can make homes safer as seniors deal with chronic illnesses. Technology is the next frontier, and a far cry from those emergency-call buttons seniors sometimes wear to summon help.
Already, some companies are offering monitoring packages that place motion sensors on the front door, a favorite chair, even the refrigerator, and then send an alert to a family member if there's too little activity over a certain period of time. Other gadgets can make pill bottles buzz when it's time for a dose and text a caregiver if it's not taken, or promise to switch off a stove burner that's left on too long.
Researchers at the University of Missouri aim to go further: Their experiments show that certain automatic monitoring can spot changes - such as restlessness in bed or a drop in daytime activity - that occur 10 days to two weeks before a fall or a trip to the doctor or hospital.
"We were blown away that we could actually detect this," said nursing professor Marilyn Rantz, an aging-in-place specialist who is leading the research. She compares it to "a vital sign of my physical function."
Why would the gadgets work? That monitor under the mattress can measure pulse and respiratory patterns to see if heart failure is worsening before someone realizes he or she is becoming short of breath. More nighttime bathroom trips can indicate a brewing urinary tract infection.
A change in gait, such as starting to take shorter or slower steps, can signal increased risk for a fall. Basic motion sensors can't detect that. So Rantz's team adapted the Microsoft Kinect 3-D camera, developed for video games, to measure subtle changes in walking. (Yes, it can distinguish visitors.)
The researchers installed the sensor package in apartments at the university-affiliated TigerPlace community and in a Cedar Falls, Iowa, senior complex. On-site nurses received automatic emails about significant changes in residents' activity. One study found that after a year, residents who agreed to be monitored were functioning better than an unmonitored control group, presumably because nurses intervened sooner at signs of trouble, Rantz said.
The bigger question is whether simply alerting a loved one, not a nurse, might also help. Now, with a new grant from the National Institutes of Health, Rantz will begin expanding the research to see how this monitoring works in different senior housing - and this time, participants can decide if they'd like a family member or friend to get those alerts, in addition to a nurse.
Rantz says embedding sensors in the home is important because too many older adults forget or don't want to wear those older emergency-call buttons - including Rantz's own mother, who lay helpless on her floor for eight hours after tripping and badly breaking a shoulder. Rantz said her mother never fully recovered, and six months later died.
"When we started this team, I said we are not going to make anybody wear anything or push any buttons, because my mother refused and I don't think she's any different than a lot of other people in this world," Rantz said.
Monitoring raises important privacy questions, about just what is tracked and who has access to it, cautioned Jeff Makowka of AARP.
To work, the high-tech approach has to be "less about, `We're watching you, Grandma,' but `Hey, Grandma, how come you didn't make coffee this morning?'" he said.
Sensor prices are another hurdle, although Makowka said they're dropping. Various kinds already on the market can run from about $70 to several hundred, plus monthly service plans.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Matt Carpenter hit a two-run home run and Matt Holliday drove in two with a two-out hit to help the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 5-4 on Wednesday night.
Carpenter's ninth homer of the season in the seventh gave the win to Seth Maness (5-1). Tony Cruz got hit by starter Jordan Lyles' first pitch of the inning and one out later Carpenter put a 2-1 pitch into the right field stands off reliever Wesley Wright (0-3).
Maness gave up two hits and a run in two innings of relief. He struck out three.
Edward Mujica earned his 25th save in 26 tries. He has appeared in six consecutive games, going 1-1 with four saves.
Lyles gave up four runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out two and walked two. Lyles hasn't won a game since beating Milwaukee on June 18.
Shelby Miller used 94 pitches to labor through five innings. He gave up three earned runs, walked five and struck out five. He had a total of six full counts, coming back to strike out Jason Castro and getting Brett Wallace to ground out.
Wallace, who had four hits and scored a run, drove in Jose Altuve in the seventh to give Houston a 4-3 lead. His only out was a grounder in the fifth that led to Houston's third run.
Holliday's single in the fifth tied the score at 3-3. His slap to right field drove in Cruz and Shane Robinson, who had a pinch hit single in place of Miller.
Allen Craig walked to open the second and scored on Matt Adams' single. Adams has five RBIs in in his past six games.
After going in order to start the game, the Astros put their leadoff batter on and had a runner reach scoring position in three of the next four innings against Miller.
Chris Carter hit his 18th home run just over the right field fence to open the second. Houston then used a Wallace single, two walks and an error for a 2-0 lead. It took a 3-1 lead after Jason Castro hit a ground rule double and J.D. Martinez drove him in with a single in the fifth.
NOTES: Cardinals C Cruz got his third start in the past four games in place of All-Star catcher and league-leading batter Yadier Molina who is nursing a sore right knee. He's gone 3 of 9 in that span. ... Molina struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh. ... Wallace, former first-round pick of the Cardinals, is 7 for 18 with five RBIs and four runs in four games this season against St. Louis. ... Jake Westbrook will start the Cardinals' first game after the All-Star break, July 19 against the visiting Padres, manager Mike Matheny said. Westbrook will be followed by Lance Lynn and Adam Wainwright. Following an off day on July 22, Miller will start against the Phillies in St. Louis. Because of the off day, the Cardinals do not plan to use Joe Kelly until July 27. ... Astros manager Bo Porter said before the game he had not yet finalized his team's rotation plans for its series at Tampa Bay this weekend. ... The Astros have lost 13 of their past 15 games against their former NL Central division rivals.