As We Age, Disability Increases

Tim Watt  |  January 9, 2014

For most older adults, staying active and healthy throughout senior living is a top priority. It would be nice to maintain our physical abilities for as long as possible, but unfortunately, the aging process often takes a toll on the body. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently conducted a study that looked at the disability rates during the final two years of life for 8,200 adults.

Compression of morbidity
Scientists have been working to increase instances of what's known as "compression of morbidity." According to The New York Times, this term refers to the idea that people can stay healthy and active until very close to the end of their life, when they will pass away swiftly.

To determine whether this was a common occurrence, researchers looked at participants in the 15-year Health and Retirement study, examining interviews with adults over 50 who later died between 1995 and 2010.

More than one-quarter of the interviewees were disabled two years before their deaths. For the purposes of this study, "disability" is defined as needing help with daily living activities, such as washing or using the restroom. Another 12 percent of study participants had severe disabilities, which meant they needed assistance with at least three daily living activities.

Dying at a younger age translated to a lower likelihood of disability. Of individuals who died before their 70th birthday, only 15 percent were disabled. That figure rose to 50 percent for individuals who reached age 90.

Researchers also found that women were more likely to experience disability in old age. Some of this may be due to the fact that they are at a higher risk for certain medical problems, such as osteoporosis, depression and arthritis. But there's another factor at play, as well.

"Husbands who are disabled have their wives taking care of them," lead author of the study Dr. Alex Smith told the news source. "But women with disabilities don't have their husbands anymore to take care of them," referencing the trend of women outliving men.

Easing and preventing disability
While these figures may be discouraging, there are ways seniors can prevent disability as they age. Retirement living communities offer healthy activities such as exercise programs and culinary classes that promote vitality well into old age. For seniors who are already disabled, assisted living communities can make day-to-day activities much more manageable.

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