Whitehall II as an Ageing Study

Participants in the Whitehall II study have now been followed for a quarter of a century. During this time they have taken part in ten data collection phases, five of which have included a medical screening.

Participation continues to be high at 70% of those alive. Aged 35-55 on enrolment into the study in 1985, those who took part in Phase 9 clinic, 2007-2009, were aged 58-78. Our recent findings reflect this ageing of the cohort and mark a change of direction for the study.

Ageing is not characterised by universal decline. Rather variations in the speed of ageing result in people of the same age becoming increasingly dissimilar in terms of cognitive capability, mental and physical health and functioning over time.

Understanding the causes of this age-related individual heterogeneity and its distribution by social group will be the core focus of our future work.

Using some of our existing self-reported measures we have shown physical functioning to decline faster with age in low socio-economic groups, suggesting that inequalities in functioning will become an important public health issue as the population ages.

The results from our next medical screening (2012-13), which is the eleventh wave of Whitehall II data collection, will be optimal for studying outcomes in the elderly. Ninety percent of participants will be 65+, more than 30% 75-85, and our data will span an age range of 50 years.

By combining our existing 25 years of data on social inequalities and chronic disease with new clinical measures of cognitive function, mental disorders and physical functioning we will transform Whitehall II into a world-class, interdisciplinary study of ageing.

In addition to providing insights into individual and social differences in the development of frailty, disability, dependence, and dementia, our work will enable the determination of optimal time windows and targets for interventions that maximize the potential for healthy-ageing and independent living.

Page last modified on 26 jul 13 15:23