People Are Now Living More Years in Good Health

THURSDAY, March 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Older adults may not only be living longer, but better as well, according to a new U.K. study.

Researchers found that since the 1990s, British adults age 65 and up have been enjoying more years living independently, free of disability.

That’s despite the fact that many chronic health conditions have become more common. In fact, disability-free years rose not only among healthy seniors, but those living with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and vision and hearing problems.

Experts called the findings — published March 15 in the journal PLOS Medicine — good news. And they align with other recent studies that are dispelling the notion that old age should be dreaded.

“I think the main message is that having a long-term condition does not mean you cannot live an independent life for a long time,” said senior researcher Carol Jagger.

The caveat is this: Vibrant golden years do not happen by chance, added Jagger, an emerita professor at Newcastle University in England.

It’s likely that older people are faring better because of improved treatments for various chronic ills, plus changes for the better in lifestyle and environment.

“Treatments for conditions like stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes have become much better, and people are treated earlier,” Jagger said. “Smoking rates have been reduced as well, which will have contributed.”

While the study was done in Britain, research in America has shown similar trends, according to Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging.

Fuller-Thomson, who was not involved in the study, saw the findings as more “great news.”

“There tends to be a doom-and-gloom view of aging,” she said. “But there’s never been a better time to be an older person.”

The outlook was not all positive, however: Jagger’s team found that older adults with dementia are actually spending a somewhat greater percentage of their final years with disability compared to the 1990s.

That might be due to the lack of treatments for dementia, according to Jagger.

On the other hand, dementia actually became less common over time — in contrast to the physical ills the study tracked. By 2011, dementia was 30% less prevalent among British seniors, versus 1991.

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