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Certain healthy habits may shorten the time older adults spend disabled at end of life

October 05, 2016

It comes as no surprise that people tend to enjoy a better quality of life when they're able to perform daily activities (eating, dressing, toileting, getting up from a bed or chair, bathing, and walking around the house, for example) without assistance. Recently, researchers studied whether or not having a healthy lifestyle later in life could shorten the period of time before death that older adults spend living with disabilities that limit their independence. Their findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The research team studied information from 5,888 people 65-years-old and older who were enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study. In that study, researchers interviewed, examined, and contacted participants to look at their health and lifestyle habits over a 25-year period.

Based on the Cardiovascular Health Study, researchers reported that male participants experienced a nearly 3-year period of disability at the end-of-life. Women experienced 4.5 years of disability.

The researchers wondered whether or not certain lifestyle habits lengthened or shortened the amount of time people were disabled. The habits the research team considered included:
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Maintaining an appropriate body weight (versus being under or overweight)
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Keeping up social connections
  • Ensuring appropriate social supports
The researchers learned important new information from their study. They reported that several factors seemed to be associated with a longer period of disability before death among older adults. These activities included:
  • Smoking
  • Being inactive (Those who walked more city blocks per week experienced fewer years of disability than non-walkers. Each additional 25 blocks people walked slightly lengthened their able-bodied years.)
  • Eating an unhealthy diet
  • Being underweight or obese
Healthy lifestyle habits can potentially shorten the period of time older adults spend being less independent and more disabled before their death, said the researchers.
This summary is from "Can a Healthy Lifestyle Compress the Disabled Period in Older Adults?" It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Mini E. Jacob, MD, PhD; Laura M. Yee, PhD; Paula H. Diehr, PhD; Alice M. Arnold, PhD; Stephen M. Thielke, MD, MPH; Paulo H. M. Chaves, MD, PhD; Liana Del Gobbo, PhD; Calvin Hirsch, MD; David Siscovick, MD, MPH; and Anne B. Newman, MD, MPH.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit

American Geriatrics Society

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