Disability is the big killer

Research from the US suggests that avoiding disability contributes more to longevity than staving off age-related diseases.

CoverAvoiding disability, rather than staving off age-related diseases – such as stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – is the key to longevity, according to a study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The New England Centenarian Study examined the health histories of over 700 centenarians and found that close to a third of them had suffered from age-related diseases for 15 years or more.

“We expected to find that nearly all centenarians have to compress the time they are sick towards the very end of their lives,” said senior author, Thomas Perls, from Boston University.

 “One factor enabling the survival of these sick centenarians-to-be appears to be a delay or compression of their disability,” he added.

Seventy-two per cent of the male centenarians living with chronic diseases and 34 per cent of the females were found to be independent using the Barthel Activities of Daily Living Index.

“The ramifications of our findings are that among older people, morbidity and disability do not always go hand in hand,” said lead author Dellara Terry, also from Boston University.

“Eventually being able to understand the underlying mechanisms for delaying disability in the presence of important age related diseases could lead to better prognostication and perhaps even therapies,” she added.

The researchers also found that although they are significantly outnumbered, male centenarians tend to have significantly better cognition and physical function than their female counterparts.

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