SWISS100 - Investigating vulnerability and resilience in Swiss centenarians Daniela Jopp
Stefano Cavalli
François Richard Herrmann
Armin Von Gunten

One in four girls and one in five boys born after 2014 are likely to reach the age of 100. Given this demographic change, it is imperative to study what characterises the very old in order to meet this challenge at individual, family and societal level. What helps them to overcome their vulnerability? Do they have particular psychological and social aspects in common?

This Swiss-wide study of centenarians - SWISS100 - examines the risks, strengths and specific needs of today's very elderly population in Switzerland, and helps us to prepare for the future. The study includes a sample of Swiss centenarians and their representatives from the three main language regions. It is the first comprehensive interdisciplinary population-based study to examine the living conditions and characteristics of centenarians across Switzerland, with a particular focus on vulnerability and resilience.

Centenarians: a vulnerable but psychologically resilient population

SWISS100 is the first study to focus on psychological and sociological aspects. Centenarians appear to be highly resilient, and their optimistic outlook on life seems to have an effect on their resources, such as cognitive functioning. Until now, most theories have been based on the 'young elderly' (up to the age of 80 or 85), who represent the largest and most visible group of older people. What is needed, however, are theories that take a closer look at age-related specificities. For this population, minor events can have the greatest impact. Consequently, studying vulnerability by focusing on the interaction between different domains is relevant not only for the very elderly, but also for younger people.

Limited knowledge of the very elderly in Switzerland

Although Switzerland has a very high life expectancy of almost 83 years (81.4 years for men; 85.4 years for women in 2017), three years more than the OECD average, there are few studies on the elderly, and particularly the very old. Yet Swiss centenarians are more frail than those in other countries, indicating possible cultural differences. With respondents from all over Switzerland, SWISS100 will make it possible to:

  • obtain representative information on centenarians in the three main language regions.
  • provide important information on psychiatric and sociological aspects.
  • obtain data on psychological aspects, including psychological strengths.

Aims of the project

SWISS100 aims to inform professionals, policy-makers and the general public about the characteristics and needs of centenarians. In order to gain a better understanding of the challenges and strengths specific to centenarians and to examine universal (i.e. shared by all centenarians) and specific (i.e. linked to societal structures or cultures) characteristics, we will compare the SWISS100 data with younger and older controls, in all regions of Switzerland and with data from other countries.

The specific objectives are as follows

  1. To determine the characteristics of centenarians and their living situations in Switzerland.
  2. To identify vulnerability (current, change), its predictors and its consequences among centenarians.
  3. To study the mechanisms of psychological and social resilience in centenarians.
  4. Integrating ageing into society and culture - examining differences between regions and countries.

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