Below are some of the major findings from studies done using the database. Click on the links and you will be taken to information on how to improve or understand that aspect of aging.
- Education: People with less than a high school education have the same level of health at age 50 as a 60-year-old college-educated person. In other words, a good education makes you ten years younger.
- Drinking: People who drink five or more drinks per day have 4 times the risk of developing a functional impairment over a six-year period.
- Smoking: People who smoke overestimate their remaining life expectancy. In other words, smokers think that they are going to live longer than they actually will. They underestimate the risk of smoking.
- Brain Aging: 10% of people aged 70 or older have moderate-to-severe cognitive impairment. Fifty percent of people in institutions aged 70 or older have severe-to-moderate cognitive impairment.
- Caregiving: The cost of taking care of an older relative is $18 billion, with an average cost to a care-giving family of $18,000 per year.
- Depression: The rate of depression in people aged 85 or more is 20% (compared to 15% in people less than 85).
- Alternative Medicine: More than half of older adults in the survey reported using some form of alternative medicine (usually supplements). Almost 50% had seen a chiropractor at least once in their life and 20% had used massage therapy before.
- Illness: The likelihood of having a chronic illness or other health problem increases with age until 85. After 85 new diagnoses of diabetes, hypertension and chronic lung disease become less common (in other words, if you can make it until 85 without these conditions, you just may never get them).
- Gender: There really weren’t that many differences between men and women in the aging studies with the exception of gender. Two-thirds of women reported having arthritis compared to one-half of men. Oddly, the results section of the survey does not talk about the most obvious difference regarding aging between men and women: women live longer.
- Ethnicity: This one is complicated. The occurrence of certain illnesses can be higher in one ethnic group than another (for example, whites report more cancer than Hispanics, blacks report more hypertension than whites and Hispanics report more diabetes than whites). When other factors are considered, though, (behaviors, income level, education level, access to health care) many of these differences go away. So the list of links between ethnicity and illness should be treated for what they are: associations between two factors. We cannot say that race causes any of these conditions.
- Comorbidity: This is a factor that is often overlooked. Comorbidity is when a person has more than one health condition or illness at the same time. About 50% of people older than 75 reported having at least two of the following conditions: diabetes, hypertension, cancer, bronchitis/emphysema, a heart condition or a stroke. The list didn’t include arthritis (probably because so many people have it). Comorbidity can complicate illnesses and (especially) complicate medications as medications for each illness may interact if not monitored and chosen carefully. If you have more than one health condition, be sure all your doctors know about all your conditions and medications. The good news is that for people older than 85, their number of conditions is about the same as those under 85. In other words, after 85, diagnosis of new chronic conditions is lower.
- Dementia: For people 70 or older, those with mild dementia received 8.5 more hours of care per week than a person with no dementia. People with severe dementia received 41.5 more hours of care per week. Much of this care was done by family members.
- Grandchild Care: Meanwhile, older adults were also taking care of grandchildren more and more. Four percent of grandparents put in at least 100 hours of childcare in a given year. Women were much more likely (2.5 times more likely to be precise) than men to perform childcare for grandchildren. Single grandmothers provided the most care (an average of 20 hours per week!).
Source(s): National Institute on Aging, National institutes of Health. The Health & Retirement Study: Growing Older in America. NIH Publication No. 07-5757. March 2007.
National Institute on Aging, National institutes of Health. The Health & Retirement Study: Growing Older in America. NIH Publication No. 07-5757. March 2007.