Getting older, but better

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

A friend who has spent a lifetime studying Alzheimer's disease once offered this double-edged advice: If you can make it all the way to age 90, there's a good chance you'll avoid the disease.

Turns out he may have been offering more than a bit of thinly veiled Catch-22. A new study offers this reassuring conclusion: Turning 90 might not be as hazardous as it once was.

Full findings, in The Lancet, seem to counter the perception that ill health will inevitably be riding shotgun on life's long journey. 

Kaare Christensen, of the University of Southern Denmark, examined data on two large groups of Danes. One cohort was born in 1905, the other in 1915.

When they reached their mid-90s, both groups were put through several mental and physical tests. The battery was designed to assess such factors as memory, grip strength and how easy the subjects found it to walk outside. While those born in 1915 were two years older when they were tested, they still outperformed their predecessors. Not only were they mentally sharper, they also found daily life easier to navigate. A memory test used to diagnose Alzheimer's also posed fewer problems.

The researchers cautioned that this is hardly the final word. But they did speculate on why the new generation of 90-somethings appeared to enjoy more robust health: better medical care, improved living conditions, healthier diet and greater intellectual stimulation.

At the risk of reading too much into this, there do appear to be some takeaways for senior living operators. If these conclusions are relevant, it would appear older residents in the future will not be as frail as those in the past (assuming seniors continue to exploit the same health-prolonging advantages). They also may be less susceptible to dementia. Put another way, seniors may be able to delay by years the conditions and functional limitations that land them in long-term care settings.

That may be a bit of a mixed blessing for operators looking to keep beds filled. But for those of us hoping to delay our need for long-term care services for as long as possible, it's welcome news indeed.