More adults than ever are enjoying a long life. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the United States had 44.7 million persons 65 or older in 2013—about 13 percent of the population. The aging population will grow rapidly over the next few decades, with more people 85 and over than ever. Though old age has been thought of as a time of illness or disability, illness and disability should not be considered normal parts of aging. Healthy old age is possible, especially if people work with a health care provider to take care of their health.
Old age can be a time of great opportunity. When in good health, people can add quality, along with quantity, to their years. There are health challenges that are specific to old age—the risk of certain cancers is greater, and people are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes. They are more likely to fall and have fractures, arthritis and dementia, to name a few. Older African Americans have higher rates of diabetes, prostate cancer and kidney disease, among other health problems. But African Americans have a lower risk of fractures and falls, hearing loss and peripheral nerve disease. Researchers are trying to figure out why there are these differences. However, research has shown that older adults who work at having a healthy lifestyle do experience significant health improvements.
To help lower aging risk factors, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed the “10 Keys”™ to Healthy Aging, a broad health behavior-change program based on research about old age and health. “These address the most common preventable health risks for older people,” says one of the developers of the “10 Keys,”™ Anne B. Newman, MD, MPH, Katherine M. Detre Professor of Population Health Sciences and chair, Department of Epidemiology, Pitt Public Health; professor of medicine, School of Medicine; and director of Pitt’s Center for Aging and Population Health. “Health improvements are possible at any age,” she says.