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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Elderly women more alert than men
Elderly woman
Women have better mental ability than men
Elderly women have better mental ability than men, even if they have less formal education.

Researchers say this could be because they are less likely to have cardiovascular disease and so have a better blood supply to the brain.

Experts in the care of the elderly said the research sent out a strong message that good health throughout life does pay dividends in old age.

Dutch scientists, from the Department of General and Internal Medicine, at the University Medical Centre, Leiden, studied a random sample of nearly 600 men and women, aged 85 and over from the town.

There is increasing evidence that vascular health plays a key role in conditions like depression, dementia and cognitive decline in older people

A spokeswoman from Research into Ageing

Mental agility

They gave them a mini mental exam and those who scored over 18 points were asked to take part in tests to look at their mental speed and memory.

Despite having lower education levels, the women scored better in the mental speed and memory tests.

Good mental speed was found in 33% of the women, compared to 28% of the men.

Forty-one per cent of the women had a good memory, compared with just 29% of the men.

Old woman
Women are less likely to suffer cardiovascular disease than men

The scientists said their study made it clear that the difference was nothing to do with educatio because the women were actually educated at a lower level than the men.

They suggested biological differences in mental functions, such as the relative absence of cardiovascular disease among elderly women were probably highly significant.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, reported: "The greater life expectancy for women indicates that in comparisons with men, elderly women of the same age are relatively free from cardiovascular disease.

"We hypothesise that the relative absence of cardiovascular disease may explain the better cognitive functioning of old women."

Health message

A spokeswoman for Research into Ageing said the data gave an important message.

"We are used to the idea of looking after our hearts and arteries for their own sake, or to keep heart attacks and strokes at bay, but there is increasing evidence that vascular health plays a key role in conditions like depression, dementia and cognitive decline in older people.

"This is an important area to research as the number of older people increases in the UK and around the world."

A spokeswoman for Age Concern said they hoped the research data could be extrapolated and used to help the elderly in the UK.

"Age Concern welcomes any research that looks specifically at older people, and we hope that the same kind of study could be looked at in the UK.

"It would be interesting to look at the findings of this research in the wider context of the welfare of older people, taking into account a range of diverse cultures and backgrounds."

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