A Dutch woman who was the oldest person in the world when she died at age 115 in 2005 appeared sharp right up to the end, joking that pickled...
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — A Dutch woman who was the oldest person in the world when she died at age 115 in 2005 appeared sharp right up to the end, joking that pickled herring was the secret to her longevity.
Scientists say that Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper’s mind was probably as good as it seemed: A post-mortem analysis of her brain revealed few signs of Alzheimer’s or other diseases commonly associated with a decline in mental ability in old age.
That came as something of a surprise, said Gert Holstege, a professor at the University of Groningen, whose findings will be published in the August edition of Neurobiology of Aging.
“Everybody was thinking that when you have a brain over 100 years, you have a lot of problems,” he said.
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He cited a common hardening of arteries and the buildup of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease as examples.
Van Andel was the oldest living person in the world at the time of her death in the Dutch city of Hoogeveen, according to the Guinness World Records.
In 1972, the then 82-year-old Van Andel called the University of Groningen to donate her body to science. She called again at 111 because she worried she might no longer be of interest. At that time, Holstege began to interview her and test her cognitive abilities at 112 and 113. Though she had problems with her eyesight, she was alert and performing better than most 60- to 75-year-olds.
Dr. Murali Doraiswamy of the Center for Aging at Duke University, not associated with the study, said it is unusual and valuable.
“It’s very rare to be able to do not only a post-mortem, but also be able to have tested her two, three years before she died,” he said.
“For a scientist, getting the opportunity to study someone like that is like winning the lottery.”
Doraiswamy, an Alzheimer’s expert, said the proportion of brains with some buildup of proteins associated with the disease increases with age. As a result, experts theorize that anybody who lives long enough will get them eventually.
When Van Andel was born in 1890, she weighed only 3.5 pounds, and her mother expected her to die in infancy. Her husband died in 1959. She had no children.
Longevity was in her genes, as all her siblings lived past 70, and her mother died at 100.
Asked what advice she would give to people who want to live a long time, she once quipped: “Keep breathing.”