Live longer, take care of chronic diseases

Tuesday , August 19, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

The more ailments you have after retirement age, the shorter your life expectancy.

Researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that increases in life expectancy among older Americans are slowing due to the fact that four out of five are living with multiple chronic medical conditions.

"Living with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure is now the norm and not the exception in the United States," said Dr. Eva H. DuGoff, lead author of the study. "The medical advances that have allowed sick people to live longer may not be able to keep up with the growing burden of chronic disease. It is becoming very clear that preventing the development of additional chronic conditions in the elderly could be the only way to continue to improve life expectancy."

Dr. Chadd D. Nelson, an internal medical physician at Tanner Clinic, said it is often more difficult to treat older individuals with these chronic conditions for several reasons.

"The disease process in older adults is usually more advanced at their age," Nelson said. "It is therefore often more difficult to reverse and may not be reversible. We are often just stabilizing the condition. An older individual also often has other contributing co-morbid conditions and they are often on several other medications that may make treatment more challenging."

Nelson said other studies have also shown that for every chronic disease a person has, life expectancy was reduced by two years.

Dr. J. David Schmitz with Ogden Clinic's Canyon View Family practice many diseases are brought about by poor lifestyle choices and some are linked to obesity.

"Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and certain cancers such as colon cancer," Schmitz said. "And as you get older your risk of heart disease increases. Smoking also increases your risk of heart disease and lung disease and lung cancer. Having one of these medical problems is bad enough but having two or more can be deadly."

Schmitz also agrees that treatment of these conditions in older patients is more difficult because their organs have greater difficulty adjusting to the medications needed to treat the illnesses.

"And often the medications for one condition will interact with medications being used to treat another condition creating side effects which can affect the well being of the patient," he said.

For their analysis, researchers used the Medicare five percent sample, a nationally representative same of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled as of January 1, 2008, which included 21 defined chronic conditions and the records of nearly 1.4 million people 67 and older.

The analysis found that, on average, a 75 year-old American woman with no chronic conditions will live to be over 92 years-old, but a 75 year-old woman with five chronic conditions will only live on average, to the age of 87. A 75 year-old woman with 10 or more chronic conditions will only live to the age of 80.

In addition, it's not just the number of diseases you have that matters, but the type of disease you have as well. At 67, an individual with Alzheimer's disease is only expected to live 12 additional years.

"We tend to think about diseases in isolation. You have diabetes or you have heart failure. But many people have both and then some," said Dr. Gerard F. Anderson, a professor in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Our system is not set up to care for people with so many different illnesses. Each one adds up and makes the burden of disease greater than the sum of its parts."

Nelson and Schmitz said the best prevention of chronic disease is to take a proactive role in your health and try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"Many of these chronic conditions can be prevented or caught early with regular screening," Nelson said.

Daily exercise, a healthy well-balanced diet, no smoking and losing weight are important. In addition, getting an annual screening and proper medical tests for your age group is also necessary.

"Maintaining an active lifestyle is key to maintaining your health. A body at rest tends to stay at rest and gain weight, where as a body in motion will burn calories and improve cardiac and lung function and even your brain function," Schmitz said.

Nelson said just 30 minutes a per week of fun time over a 15 year span can add an extra three years to your life.

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