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article imageNew study finds that living longer doesn't mean we are healthier

By Karen Graham     Apr 15, 2016 in Health
Los Angeles - Studies have shown that Americans are living longer, but the extended life expectancy comes with an increase in disability rates as we age, showing us that long life does not insure that we will also have good health.
In the University of Southern California study, trends in life expectancy and disability rates of Americans, covering a 40-year period, from 1970 through 2010 were examined, reports Science News Online.
While the study found that the average life span for both men and women increased during those 40 years, so too did the proportion of time spent living with a health or disability issue. The study clearly showed that increased longevity in most age groups is not a clear indicator of good health.
"We could be increasing the length of poor quality life more than good-quality life," said lead author Eileen Crimmins, USC University Professor and AARP Professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. "There are a number of indications that the Baby Boomer generation that is now reaching old age is not seeing improvements in health similar to the older groups that went before them." Only for people aged 65 and older was there a "compression of morbidity" -- a reduction in the proportion of years spent with a disability."
The findings have clear implications for policymakers and the health care industry. This is why it is so important to be proactive in maintaining good health when we are younger if we want to have a meaningful "compression of morbidity across the age range,” Crimmins said.
Crimmins adds that assumption-based trends over the past 40 years have been wrong when they said there would be a reduced length of disabled life. The trends don't support the projections and policies.
The study results
For men, the average life span increased by 9.2 years to 76.2 years. The numbers of years men lived with a disability increased by 4.7 years while the number of years spent living disability-free decreased by 4.5 years.
For women, the average life span increased by 6.4 years to 81 years. The number of years women lived with a disability increased by 3.6 years, exceeding the number of years spent living disability-free by 2.7 years.
“The smaller increase in healthy life than in total life for women was surprising and another indication that American women have not done as well as American men in terms of improving health in recent decades,” Crimmins said, as reported in Science Daily.
The one important observation made in the study was that for the "baby boomer" generation that is just now reaching retirement age, their health and disability issues are more extensive than those of us already in our seventies and above. We older people have actually seen a reduction in the proportion of years spent with a disability.
Dr. Crimmins suggests that baby boomers may have an increase in disability because of a greater emphasis on mental health issues, such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, and changes in drug use. All in all, it makes for a very interesting study.
The study, "Trends Over 4 Decades in Disability-Free Life Expectancy in the United States," was published in the American Journal of Public Health on April 13, 2016.
More about Life expectancy, disability free, Life span, Health issues, policy making
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