Thanks to my friends at The Selfhelp Home for sharing this post from their “Selfhelp Snippets”. The Selfhelp Home is an active and engaging not-for-profit senior living community designed to accommodate the needs of elderly Jewish residents throughout the Chicago area.
This article was originally posted July 2012 at:
Is Aging a Thing of the Past?
Each year, we hear about how more people are living well past normal age expectancy, and individuals who were once considered “seniors” are simply no longer acting or feeling their age. Is it possible that aging has become a thing of the past? In fact, people who are in their 80’s today are at least 15 years younger both mentally and physically. Dr. Martin Szanto offers his expert view on this interesting phenomenon.
People who are into their 80’s and beyond are able to maintain extremely active and independent lives today. What is contributing to this?
There are a few significant factors that have enabled people to remain more vibrant as they age. If we go back in time, we can see how our diets have changed tremendously. In the 1960’s, the average total cholesterol was at least 80 points higher than today. The modification of our diets has reduced heart disease and other vascular illnesses. Tobacco use in metropolitan areas has gone down significantly and even overall air quality has improved. People are taking care of their bodies much better and are more conscious of the effect that poor diet, lack of exercise, tobacco and alcohol use can have on the body.
Are there certain medical advances that have been responsible for people living longer and being healthier?
In general, routine health maintenance has increased significantly and people are more focused on preventing illness. Specifically, the heart medications we have been using such as Lipitor or Zocor, are much better tolerated. This family of drugs has made an enormous impact on the reduction of heart attacks and strokes. We used to see 70-year-old people who were declining and we attributed it to the aging process. Was it really due to aging or was it due to degenerative processes, like vascular disease, that takes a tremendous toll on the body? Now that these diseases are coming under control, we aren’t seeing the same decline in people who are advanced in age.
In your work with older adults, what other trends are you seeing?
An interesting thing happens to our bodies when we get to be about 70 years old. People who may have been plump or overweight in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s seem to go through a re-adjustment and they lose this excess weight as they age. The body seems to simply fine-tune itself. I also see more seniors who have very positive attitudes and they don’t want to restrict themselves. They want to remain active and continue to learn and to grow. Many are choosing to continue working in some capacity.
What do you see for the future?
Twenty years ago, we worried about whether we would keep up with the need for hospital beds and nursing homes. In fact, we have recently closed numerous hospitals and we are using fewer nursing home beds. We are seeing more senior friendly arrangements that allow people to receive some assistance with their daily activities and that area is certainly growing. I believe this is indicative of the improved health of seniors and the fact that people are living healthier lives.
As a physician, what do you recommend to your older patients to extend their lives as much as possible?
Safety is very important. I always recommend that people take measures to prevent accidents in their home. They should also know how to get help if they need it in an emergency and have a backup plan. I suggest they stay in touch with their doctor and see the doctor at least once a year. That way, they remain in the health care system and have someone who is familiar with their health status and can monitor whether there has been a change in their condition. One area that seniors need to be acutely aware of is medication errors. They should bring all their pills with them when they go to the doctor and know how the drugs interact. They might want to take a friend or family member along with them when they visit the doctor to help supervise their medications. Most importantly, I think seniors need to stay involved in the community and keep themselves from being isolated.
Marla Levie, BSW, MA, President and Founder of Focus on Aging, has successfully been providing marketing consulting, social media and recruiting services to the elder care market and to other service-related professions in the Chicago area for over 20 years. Use the contact tab to email Marla for additional information about her services.