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Healthy Aging - The Challenge

May is "Older American's Month", a time to celebrate the past and the future. Americans are living longer and longer. The average life expectancy has almost doubled in the last one hundred years. The challenge for the future is improve the quality of those additional years.

I spoke recently to Dr. Michael Liechtenstein, M.D. who is on staff at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio Texas. He is part of the Department and Aging Research and is an Internal Medicine specialist. He has been involved in a study of aging called SALSA, or the San Antonio Longitudinal Study on Aging. This study began in 1991 set out to study residents of San Antonio, both Mexican-American and European-American. The participants were all 65 years of age or over at the start of the study. This is an ongoing study with multiple disciplines involved. Dr. Liechtenstein said he is looking at ways identifying diseases and impairments that lead to disabilities and handicaps. Aging research is designed to keep older people healthy until they die. In clinical terms, this is called "compression of morbidity." It means postponing serious illness and prolonging productivity. He gave me diabetes as an example. The earlier it can be identified the greater the chance to control blood sugars and reduce the possibility of disabilities. As the study progresses they will be able to see the effects of early intervention on disease progression. He states they have already seen some significant differences in the health status of the youngest of their study participants, in the intervening years. Those subjects are in better health than those who were the same age at the beginning of the study. He said that although it is too early to make a definite claim, early intervention and education appear to be making the difference.

I asked Dr. Liechtenstein what he feels are the biggest threats to quality of life for older Americans. He was definite in feeling that dementia such as Alzheimer's and the epidemic of obesity are the 2 greatest threats. He said obesity leads to so many other disabling diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis.

With this type of research being done the future for older Americans looks brighter than ever. Who wouldn't want a longer life, if that life could be healthy and productive also. As we celebrate this month, remember that the first step - following a healthy lifestyle begins with you.

More Information on Aging

Life Expectancy
Information from Geography About.com.

Nutrition Research Center on Aging
Tufts University studies on the effects of nutrition on aging and disability.

Health Canada Aging and Seniors
Information and resources for Canadian seniors from Health Canada. Previous Articles

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