Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Living longer, living healthier

29.07.2013
Research shows that people are remaining healthier later in life

A new study, conducted by David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, shows that, even as life expectancy has increased over the past two decades, people have become increasingly healthier later in life.

"With the exception of the year or two just before death, people are healthier than they used to be," Cutler said. "Effectively, the period of time in which we're in poor health is being compressed until just before the end of life. So where we used to see people who are very, very sick for the final six or seven years of their life, that's now far less common. People are living to older ages and we are adding healthy years, not debilitated ones."

The study results are based on data collected between 1991 and 2009 from nearly 90,000 individuals who responded to the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS). Cutler reported these findings in work with Mary Beth Landrum of Harvard Medical School and Kaushik Ghosh of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

To understand whether people are becoming healthier, Cutler first had to answer a question that, at least initially, seemed impossible to solve: How far are people from death?

"There are two basic scenarios that people have proposed about the end of life," he said. "The first argues that what medical science is doing is turning us into light bulbs – that is, we work well until suddenly we die. This is also called the rectangularization of the life curve, and what it says is that we're going to have a fairly high quality of life until the very end.

"The other idea says life is a series of strokes, and medical care has simply gotten better at saving us," he continued. "So we can live longer because we've prevented death, but those years are not in very good health, and they are very expensive – we're going to be in wheelchairs, in and out of hospitals and in nursing homes."

While researchers have tried to tackle the question of which model is more accurate, different studies have produced competing results. One reason for the confusion, Cutler suggested, is that such efforts are simply looking at the wrong end of someone's life.

"Most of our surveys measure health at different ages, and then use a model to estimate how long people have to live," he said. "But the right way to do this is to measure health backwards from death, not forwards. We should start when someone dies, then go back a year and measure their health, then go back two years, three years, and so on."

The MCBS allows researchers to do just that, Cutler said, by linking survey responses to participants' Medicare records for the rest of their life, meaning researchers can calculate - in some cases to the day - exactly how far participants were from death when they answered the survey.

By comparing that data with survey responses on how well people were able to care for themselves – whether they were able to cook, clean, bathe themselves, dress themselves, walk and manage money – Cutler was able to determine how healthy people were relative to how close or far away they were from dying.

Going forward, Cutler hopes to unravel the reasons why some conditions are today less debilitating than in the past. Part of the change, he said, will certainly be chalked up to increased access and improvements to care, but there are a host of other factors that make answering the question "very very difficult."

"There seems to be a clear relationship between some conditions that are no longer as debilitating as they once were and areas of improvement in medicine," he said. "The most obvious is cardiovascular disease – there are many fewer heart attacks today than there used to be, because people are now taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, and recovery is much better from heart attacks and strokes than it used to be. A person who suffered a stroke used to be totally disabled, but now many will survive and live reasonable lives. People also rebound quite well from heart attacks."

What's more, he said, as standards of care have improved, so too has the public's knowledge of how to live healthier lives.

"People are much better educated about their health now," Cutler said. "People are taking steps to help prevent long-term cognitive decline. We don't have any way yet to slow down something like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, but there is a lot we can do for other health problems."

The research reported here was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging.

Peter Reuell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fas.harvard.edu

Further reports about: Living Lakes-Konferenz MCBS Medicare health problem heart attacks

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>