The following article comes from the U.S. News ebook, How to Live to 100, which is now available for purchase.
It's true for friendships, wine, and yes, life: quality over quantity. Living to 100 doesn't have quite the same appeal if those last five, 10, or 20 years are filled with falls, funerals, and financial doom.
But aging well is more achievable today than ever before. According to the Stanford Center on Longevity, the number of adults ages 75 and older who are living with a chronic disease that hampers mobility has been steadily declining since 1997. To be a part of this trend, you should be aware of the common health issues that can make elderly life less pleasurable—and know how to lessen their impact should they arise.
Arthritis. Generally characterized as pain and stiffness around the joints, arthritis affects more than half of women over 65 and just under half of men in that same age group. While arthritis describes several conditions—rheumatoid, gout, and lupus—osteoarthritis, the most common type, occurs when the cartilage that protects bones begins to break down.
"Osteoarthritis is related to heredity, it's related to obesity, it's related to wear and tear on the joints," says Marie Bernard, a geriatrician and deputy director of the National Institute on Aging. The best defense is to maintain a healthy weight and remain physically active throughout your life, she says. If you're a young athlete, train carefully to prevent joint injuries, which can hike your odds of developing osteoarthritis in the affected joint. That means warming up and cooling down before and after physical activity, wearing well-fitted gear, and being coached by an expert, for example.
If you do develop osteoarthritis, range-of-motion exercises like swimming, strengthening exercises like weight training, and endurance activities like biking can help keep your joints limber, the muscles around them strong, and the weight off. Your doctor might also prescribe pain relievers or recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to help you cope.
Falls. After age 65, falls take the lead in causes of injury-related death. A recent study found that women ages 64 and older who suffer a hip fracture are twice as likely to die within a year as those with unbroken hips.
Falls can also signal the beginning of an overall decline in function, adds James Pacala, the associate head of the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota and president-elect of the American Geriatrics Society. "When you reach the point where, instead of just a pain in your knee from arthritis, you're falling, or getting confused, or losing weight, you've crossed a threshold," he says.
Strength training can counteract the disappearing muscle mass that comes with age, and balance-building activities like Tai Chi can help you stay on your feet. In addition to a well-rounded diet, certain supplements might prove beneficial: A 2004 meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of falls by more than 20 percent among older individuals with stable health.
Practical changes can also lessen your likelihood of toppling. Consider buying a pair of non-skid shoes and a cane if you're wobbly; installing "grab bars" near the shower; replacing dim light bulbs; and standing up slowly. Avoiding that first fall is critical: Two-thirds of seniors who fall once fall again within six months.
Hearing loss. Losing your hearing means more than adding "Speak up!" to your daily dialogue. Even mild hearing loss is strongly associated with a higher risk of falling, according to a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Impaired hearing has also been linked to a slide in cognitive abilities and almost always means strained relationships and reduced social engagement, the latter of which may raise your vulnerability to multiple diseases and premature death.