According to recent study results, even as life expectancy has increased over the past 2 decades, individuals 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,” David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein professor of applied economics at Harvard University, stated in a press release. “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 6 or 7 years of their life, that’s now far less common. People are living to older ages and we are adding health years, not debilitated ones.”
Cutler and colleagues collected data on nearly 90,000 individuals from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. By linking the survey responses to participants’ Medicare records, the researchers were then able to calculate how far participants were from death when they answered the survey. The researchers determined how healthy individuals were relative to how close or distant they were from dying by comparing the data with survey responses on how well they were able to care for themselves, including cooking, cleaning, bathing, dressing, walking and managing money.
In future research, the researchers hope to discover why some conditions are less debilitating today than they were in the past.
“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,” Cutler stated. “People are much better educated about their health now. 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.”