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Is 90 the new 80?

July 17, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Caring for those in their 90s may become easier in the future, but helping people reach that age may require an increased focus on certain health issues, according to recently published research.

A study in Denmark by Kaare Christensen, MD, and colleagues indicates that that “more people are living to older ages with better overall functioning.” A separate report published online in JAMA, however, says that improved public health programs focused on matters related to diet, tobacco and alcohol use, high body mass index, high blood pressure, diabetes and physical activity may be necessary to address quality of life and morbidity issues.

The Danish investigators compared two groups of people, those born in 1905 and assessed when they were 93 years old, and those born in 1915 and assessed when they were 95. They found that the chance of living until age 93 was 28 percent higher in the 1915 group than in the 1905 group, and the likelihood of reaching age 95 was 32 percent higher in 1915 cohort . Those in the 1915 group also performed “significantly better” on age-related cognitive tests and physical functioning tests measuring activities of daily living such as grip strength, chair stand and gait speed.

The research, published in The Lancet, in part was funded in part by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

In the JAMA report, researchers found that life expectancy at birth as well as the number of years a person at a given age could expect to live in good health increased from 1990 to 2010. Also during that time, all-cause death rates decreased, and age-specific rates of years lived with disability were stable.

“However, morbidity and chronic disability now account for nearly half of the U.S. health burden, and improvements in population health in the United States have not kept pace with advances in population health in other wealthy nations,” the researchers wrote. The most fruitful ways to improve population health, they added, likely will be to use public health programs to address risk factors such as physical inactivity, diet, environmental pollution, and use of tobacco and alcohol.

The study was sponsored in part by the National Institutes of Health and its environmental health sciences institute.

In an editorial accompanying report online, Institute of Medicine President Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD, wrote, “Setting the United States on a healthier course will surely require leadership at all levels of government and across the public and private sectors and actively engaging the health professions and the public.”

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