The fountain of age: A remarkable 3D shape that portrays health and functional differences among the European elderly.


There are very few norms to evaluate and monitor the health and functioning of the elderly. This paper proposes a compact spatial representation of 25 health measurements of European citizens older than 50 years. Data from 44,285 unique individuals were obtained from the EU-wide Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe(SHARE) data collected in 2004-2007 and were analyzed by homogeneity analysis, a form of non-linear principal components analysis. The resulting configuration of persons shows a remarkable three-dimensional shape that resembles a fountain. The three components explain 13.7, 5.8 and 4.6 percent of the total variation, respectively. Component 1 is driven by age and by the disabilities that come with old age. Component 2 portrays differences in health that are independent of age, with the high scores in relatively good health, given age. Component 3 distinguishes specific types of functional decline from general complaints that impact on daily life. The shape suggests that the elderly keep on maturing as they grow older, actually becoming more diverse as a group. We show how the solution may be used to develop and support profiles for the elderly. Another potential application is to track the individual development of the elderly, thereby objectifying personalized medicine.

Int J Environ Res Public Health
Stef van Buuren
Stef van Buuren

My research interests include data science, missing data, child growth and development, and measurement.