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Gerotalk

Older Adults are Feeling Younger

Published April 30, 2014 10:00 AM by Brian Garavaglia

In a recent survey, when centenarians were asked how old they felt, they stated they felt approximately 17 years younger, on average 83 years of age. Also, when those who were 65 years of age were surveyed on how old they felt, they said they felt on average 10 years younger than their chronological age, or approximately 55 years of age. 

The results sound somewhat unwieldy. One may ask how are they measuring these subjective evaluations provided by the older adults surveyed. The results are part of the ninth annual 100@100 survey conducted by United Healthcare, which has polled 65 year olds and 100 year olds to compare the attitudes and lifestyles of American adults who were about to enter retirement with those that have already done so 35 years ago. In other words, the survey compared the subjective statements of the most recently surveyed older adults with those who were surveyed in past years in the previous surveys. The current survey looked at the responses of 104 centenarians and 302 baby boomers entering retirement. 

In evaluating some of the common responses that were found among centenarians, some of the following were found among those surveyed. 

  • When asked how it felt to be 100 years of age, the top three responses given were 1.) blessed at 36 percent, 2.) happy at 31 percent and 3.) surprised at 12 percent.
  • Another interesting common theme found in the responses was that 53 percent of the centenarians felt they had achieved everything in life. However, approximately one-third said 100 years of life was not enough and one in five stated they would like to live just a few more years. So much for the misconceptions that view older adults as inevitably suffering and welcoming death.
  • Another fascinating finding was that the centenarians were far from a totally dependent group. The survey found that 53 percent said they lived independently and were able to carry out their activities of daily living without any assistance!
  • An interesting psychological finding was that not one centenarian described themselves as being sad, and only 3 percent said they experienced feelings of loneliness.

In comparing the responses of the 104 centenarians with the 302 baby boomers on a number of questions, there were some common similarities and some noted differences that were found. For instance, when both the centenarians and the baby boomers were asked to give the three top keys to healthy aging, the centenarians stated:

  • 1) Staying close to friends and family (91 percent)
  • 2) Keeping a sense of independence (88 percent)
  • 3) Eating right (86 percent)

The baby boomers had similar views on this question as well stating the following:

  • 1) Maintaining a sense of independence (87 percent)
  • 2) Laughing and having a sense of humor (87 percent)
  • 3) Staying close to family and friends (84 percent)

Centenarians and baby boomers also appear to be getting much more health conscious, especially on a preventative level. Both of these groups stated they see their family physician at least once each year for a physical examination, as well as maintaining current with their vaccines. Furthermore, both the centenarians and baby boomers are remaining physically active and are apparently becoming more conscious of doing so for their health.  Most stated they walked or hiked at least once each week. In addition, approximately one-third reported engaging in regular strength training weekly.    

Dr. Rhonda Randall, the chief medical officer for the United Healthcare Retiree Solutions was quite encouraged by the results found in this year's 100@100 survey. According to Randall, "This year's 100@100 survey paints an encouraging and exciting view of longevity." Randall is especially optimistic about the number of older adults who are actively involved in their health on a proactive level. The increasing level of self-efficacy found among older adults toward becoming proactively involved in their health to forestall or attenuate disease is very encouraging to Randall, stating, "This is a good reminder for all Americans to take charge of their health now so that they can enjoy life for many years to come"(Paddock, 2014).

It is definitely encouraging that, in this study, older adults were more involved in managing their health more proactively and not just their disease as was often the case in the past. Some of this may be due to a more informed and better educated older adult population, as well a public health measures that have often encouraged greater levels of health consciousness as an important preventative health care measure. However, one must also look at these results cautiously. The sampling methodology may preclude one from generalizing these results beyond the current study's sample. Nevertheless, the current results, as compared to previous 100@100 surveys, demonstrating greater levels of health, activity, independence and demonstrable levels of optimism are to say the least, quite encouraging.

References

Paddock, C. (2014, April 25).  American centenarians and baby boomers feel 'younger than their years.' http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275940.php

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About this Blog


    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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