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Americans are living longer, but are we healthier in our golden years?

older_man_bikeWhile advances in biomedicine have extended Americans' longevity, there is an ongoing debate as to whether such innovations have improved quality of life in our final years. Now recent research (.pdf) suggests that as life expectancy has increased over the past twenty years, people have become increasingly healthy later in life.

PopSci reports:

People have long debated whether Americans are actually getting good years out of their increased longevity. Researchers have argued both sides. (Likely your parents and friends have thought about this, too.)

What was missing was actual data on when individuals, with whatever particular health problems they had, died. Instead, many studies would survey elderly people at a moment in time, then use mathematical models to guess when those people were likely to die. By using Medicare data, [Harvard economist David Cutler, PhD,] says, "We know exactly how far people are from death."

He and his colleagues linked people's health data to their death records, so they had a full picture of individuals' path through time. The Medicare data also helped the researchers track many people, more than 10,000 Americans aged 65 and over, for every year between 1991 and 2009.

The researchers found several trends. The number of people with disabilities that impair their everyday functioning has fallen over time. The number of people sick with diseases is rising, however. It seems Americans are getting more diseases, but the diseases don't doom them to disability the way they used to.

Previously: Longevity gene tied to nerve stem cell regeneration, say Stanford researchers, Study shows regular physical activity, even modest amounts, can add years to your life, TED Talk with Laura Carstensen shows older adults have an edge on happiness, The secret to living longer? It’s all in the ‘tude and Researchers aim to extend how long – and how well – we live

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