SWISS100 Project - Investigating Vulnerability and Resilience in Swiss Centenarians

Every fourth girl and fifth boy born after 2014 is likely to reach age 100. Given this demographic development, investigations of what characterizes very old age are imperative to address this challenge at the individual, family and societal level. What helps them overcome vulnerability? Do they share particular psychological and social aspects?

This Swiss-wide centenarian study – SWISS100 – examines specific risks, strengths, and needs of today’s very old population in Switzerland and help us prepare our future. The study includes a population-based sample of Swiss centenarians and their proxies from the three main language regions. It is the first comprehensive interdisciplinary population-based study investigating centenarians’ living conditions and characteristics across Switzerland, with a specific focus on vulnerability and resilience.

Centenarians as a vulnerable yet psychologically resilient population

SWISS100 is the first study which will focus on psychological and sociological aspects. In fact, centenarians appear to be very resilient and their optimistic outlook on life seems to have an effect on their resources, such as cognitive functioning. Up to now, most theories are based on the young-old (up to 80 to 85 years old), representing the larger and better visible group of the elderly. Yet, theories are needed that allow a closer look for age-associated specificities. For this population, minor events can have a maximum impact. Thus, investigating vulnerability with a particular focus on the interplay between various domains is relevant not only for the very old, but also at younger ages.

Limited knowledge on the very old in Switzerland

Although Switzerland has a very high life expectancy of almost 83 years (81.4 for men; 85.4 for women in 2017), which is three years higher than OECD average, there are few studies investigating old and particularly very old age. Yet, Swiss centenarians experience more frailty that in the other countries, indicating possible culturally-bound differences. With respondents all over Switzerland, SWISS100 will therefore:

  • obtain representative centenarian information for the three main language areas.
  • provide important information on psychiatric and sociological aspects.
  • gain data on psychological aspects including psychological strengths.

Goals of the project

SWISS100 aims to inform professionals, policy makers, and the wider public about centenarians’ characteristics and needs. To further increase the understanding of the unique challenges and strengths of centenarians and to examine more universal (i.e., shared by all centenarians) and specific (i.e., features related to societal structures or cultures) characteristics, we will compare SWISS100 data with younger old controls, across Swiss regions and with data from other countries.

Specific goals are:

  1. Determine characteristics of centenarians and their life situations in Switzerland
  2. Identify vulnerability (actual, change), its predictors and consequences in centenarians
  3. Investigate psychological and social resilience mechanisms in centenarians
  4. Ageing embedded in society and culture – examining differences between regions and countries

This study is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.