When Age Is Just A Number

When Henrikje van Andel-Schipper turned 115 years old, her mind was sharper than many 60 year olds. Years before, she knew something about her was unique and requested multiple times for her body to be donated to her hometown university in the Netherlands. As a result of her many requests, scientists began testing her cognitive abilities at the age of 112 and discovered she could outperform those who were half her age. They were baffled by this, and post-mortem studies showed that her brain had few signs of Alzeheimer’s disease or any other age-related diseases associated with mental decline.

Was it the genes? Well, it is true that longevity is genetically related, meaning if your parents lived a long time, then you probably will also. Van Andel’s mother died at the age of 100 and all her siblings lived past 70. Is it the diet? She joked that her daily diet of pickled herrings helped, but maybe it was more? Van Andel did not succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, but stomach cancer, and doctors said she could have lived much longer if it were not for the cancer. Perhaps van Andel’s and her family’s longevity can be attributed to not having Alzheimer’s, where the majority of people die from its complications. Scientists are we now coming to the realization that old age, or a very old age in this case, does not necessarily equilibrate to living with senility or dying from “natural causes”. Post mortem studies of van Andel touches on the theory that there must be a specific disease or culmination of diseases that cause death, and not necessarily just being old.

GeneFor those of you who do not have the “good genes” and won’t be rushing to add pickled herring to your diets, what can we do to prolong life? Researchers say that people whose occupation or hobbies requires them to exercise their brains have a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Both conditions decrease the quality of life and increase the likelihood of death. Over the past two decades, we have discovered that our lust for fast food has sent us to the hospital or shortened our lives prematurely. Maybe if we exercised our brains and implemented healthy eating habits into our diets, we can cheat the grim reaper himself?

Let’s put that theory to test:

Do you have elderly family members who have sharp minds? What do they eat and do they regularly exercise? What were/ are their occupations? What are their hobbies? Do you think they are exercising their brains more than the average person?


DENDUNNEN, W., BROUWER, W., BIJLARD, E., KAMPHUIS, J., VANLINSCHOTEN, K., EGGENSMEIJER, E., HOLSTEGE, G. (2008). No disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Neurobiology of Aging, 29(8), 1127-1132. DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.04.010


Dr. RD is a medical doctor with experience in clinical research. An author and co-author of publications in peer-reviewed medical journals, her passion is educating patients, and she feels this is one of the most effective ways for disease prevention. She enjoys keeping abreast of the latest studies and events around the world that directly or indirectly impacts the medical field.
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