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Longer lives don’t mean more disability: study

Resource type: News

Reuters |

by Amy Norton More and more people are living into their 90s and beyond, but that may not mean a large cost to society in terms of medical care, a new study suggests. In a study that followed a group of Danish adults born in 1905, researchers found that the percentage that was independent changed little between the ages of 92 and 100. Overall, 39 percent of 92-year-olds were able to care for themselves, as were 33 percent of those who lived to the age of 100. The so-called “oldest-old” is the fastest growing segment of the population in Western countries, and some experts have worried that at the societal level, this could translate into high rates of physical and mental impairment, along with huge healthcare costs. “Our study does not support this grim prediction,” researchers led by Kaare Christensen, of the University of Southern Denmark, report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The new finding is that 100-year-olds are not more ‘costly’ than 92- year-olds,” Christensen told Reuters Health. “Extreme longevity,” he added, “does not lead to extreme levels of disability.” That is the finding on the population level. On the other hand, the risk to any one person of becoming disabled during his or her 90s is high, the researchers found. Their data showed that the proportion of hardy nonagenarians remains relatively stable over time because at any given age, death rates are high among the frailest individuals. That might sound like bad news, the researchers note. However, Christensen said, loss of independence among the oldest-old seems to occur close to the end of life and is not more severe for a 100-year-old than a 90-year-old. That is, living to extreme ages delays physical decline, rather than causing people to live longer with disability. SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online August

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