Americans Live Healthier Lives Much Longer Than Realized
Americans enjoy good health for a longer period than previously
realized, and many factors that compromise health in the elderly can be
modified to maintain their health, according to recent findings from a
multi-university study led by Duke University Medical Center.
Consequently, researchers said, physicians should understand that long
spans of illness and disability are not necessarily part of normal
shows the majority of people enjoy good or excellent health, even past
age 85. Later life is not necessarily defined by a steady decline in
health, but rather by more healthy years followed by a much shorter
period of ill health immediately before death.
are healthy, and it is important for health providers to keep this
optimistic perspective and share it with their elderly clients," said
Truls Ostbye, M.D., Ph.D., lead study author and professor in Duke's
Department of Community and Family Medicine. "We hear a lot about
disease and disability among the elderly, but the quality of life in
older individuals is actually, by most measures used, high up to the
oldest of age."
findings, Ostbye said, contradict the generally held perceptions among
the public that elderly individuals begin a slow decline into ill
health decades before they actually do.
were all residents of the same county in Northern Utah and were
involved in the "Cache County Memory Study," a larger, four-institution
epidemiological study of aging and dementia. The participants in this
very long-lived population, many living beyond age 80, self-reported
their overall health on 10 measures, including their ability to carry
out activities of daily living (ADLs), such as dressing or bathing; the
presence of any major illness, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes
or cancer; and their level of social activity. The researchers said
that few previous studies have included data on as many health
included nearly 3,500 men and women over age 65. Between 80 percent and
90 percent of participants ages 65 to 75 reported excellent or good
health, and approximately 60 percent of those over age 85 did so. The
participants were asked to describe their overall health as excellent,
good, fair and poor. Participant cognition was also tested with the
Mini-Mental Status Examination, a widely used 20-question test of
reasoning and memory.
the researchers' analysis of the data, nearly 90 percent of
participants were healthy enough to live at home, including those age
85 and over. More than 90 percent of men and women ages 65 to 84 were
independent in all ADLs, and more than two-thirds over age 85 could
complete these tasks alone. The 2004 National Health Interview Survey
indicates that individuals of the same age perform similarly
While up to
50 percent of participants were free from any major disease, the rest
were living with at least one physical ailment. According to
researchers, most continued to report at least fair health and the
abilityto perform most ADLs and other physical activities despite the
percentage of participants without chronic illness fell slightly as
individuals aged, but 40 percent of men age 85 and older and 42 percent
of women in the same age group still did not suffer from any major
in this study with chronic diseases were not in bad overall health,"
Katrina Krause, a co-author of the study, said. "And as they got older,
a chronic disease did not necessarily mean they were disabled."
Many of the
problems older individuals listed as impairing their overall health and
quality of life could potentially be modified, said Krause. The three
most common factors affecting self-reported health – poor vision,
hearing loss and mood – can often be treated with clinical
interventions, such as prescriptive lenses, hearing aids or
occurrence of depression, however, in this study was low – less
than 10 percent of participants were affected. Individuals over age 85
reported the most cases of depression, perhaps, Ostbye said, because
they had fewer opportunities for social participation.
analysis, researchers discovered that gender did play a role in the
level of self-reported good health as individuals got older. Women over
age 85 were more likely to be frail and less likely to be able to
perform certain activities of daily living.
The results of the study were to be published in the February 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.
For more information on the Duke University Medical Center, visit www.medschool.duke.edu