Want To Live Past 100?

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Centarians

Gertrude Siegel is 101 and hears it all the time. “Everyone says ‘I want to be just like you.’ I tell them to get in line,” she said.

John and Charlotte Henderson, 104 and 102, often field questions from wannabes eager to learn their secrets.

“Living in moderation,” he said. “We never overdo anything. Eat well. Sleep well. Don’t overdrink. Don’t overeat. And exercise regularly.”

Mac Miller, who is 102, has a standard reply.

“People ask me ‘What is the secret?’ The answer is simple. Choose the right grandparents. They were in their 80s. My mother was 89, and my father was 93,” he said.

Genetics and behaviors do play roles in determining why some people live to be 100 or older while others don’t, but they aren’t guarantees. And now, as increasing numbers are reaching triple digits, figuring out the mysteries of longevity has taken on new importance among researchers.

Although those 100 and older make up a tiny segment of America’s population, U.S. Census reports show that centenarian ranks are growing. Between 1980 and 2010, the numbers rose from 32,194 to 53,364, an increase of almost 66 percent. The latest population estimate, released in July 2015, reflects 76,974 centenarians.

“The number of centenarians in the U.S. and other countries has been doubling roughly every eight years,” said James Vaupel, founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

“When the baby boomers hit, there’s going to be acceleration, and it might be doubling every five or six years,” he said.

Henderson and his wife of 77 years live in Austin in the independent living section of Longhorn Village, a community of more than 360 seniors, many of whom have ties to the University of Texas at Austin. Henderson is UT’s oldest-living former football player, arriving in 1932 as a freshman. They’re the only centenarians in the complex and are a rare breed: married centenarians.

Charlotte Henderson said she believes being married may have helped them reach these 100-plus years.

“We had such a good time when John retired. We traveled a lot,” she said. “We just stay busy all the time, and I’m sure that helps.”

Bernard Hirsh, 100, of Dallas agrees. His wife, Bee, is 102. They married in 1978 when both were in their early 60s and each had been widowed, she for the second time.

“I think it’s been such a wonderful marriage, and we’ve contributed to each other’s benefit,” he said.

Little research exists on the effects of marriage on longevity. One 2015 Belgian study of centenarians born between 1893 and 1903 did focus on their living arrangements during ages 60 and 100 and found “in very old age, living with a spouse is beneficial for men but not for women, for whom living alone is more advantageous than living with a spouse.” The study explained that “living with one’s spouse at the oldest ages does not provide the same level of protection as it does at younger ages. This may be explained by the decline of the caregiver’s own health as the needs of his or her spouse increase. Caregiving could also have negative consequences for the health and economic condition of the spouse who is the primary caregiver, especially for older women.”

However, Vaupel, who directs the Institute’s International Research Network on Aging, said being married is a positive for both.

“Especially if you’re quite old, it’s very helpful to have a spouse. If you’re very old and don’t have a spouse, the chance of death is higher,” he said.

Siegel, who lives in a senior living community in Boca Raton, Fla., outlived two husbands. She never smoked and occasionally has a glass of dry, red wine.

“I am not a big eater. I don’t eat much meat,” said Siegel, who said she weighs 90 pounds and used to be 5 feet tall but is shrinking.

She stays active by walking inside the building about a half-hour each day, playing bridge twice a week and exercising.

“I feel that’s what really keeps my body pretty good. It wasn’t sports. It was exercises,” she said of the routine she does daily twice a day for about 20 minutes.

Miller, of Pensacola, Fla., also outlived two wives.

He was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps during World War II and spent eight years in active duty, which Miller said “was not so good for me because I sat in the cockpit of a plane for 5,000 hours.”

But, he was active as a youth — running track, playing football and spending hours surfing while living in Honolulu.

Miller is gluten-free because of allergies and doesn’t eat many carbohydrates. He also never smoked. And, he still enjoys a scotch in the evening.

The Hendersons usually have wine or a cocktail before dinner. She never smoked. He quit in 1950.

Hirsh, of Dallas, another non-smoker, attributes his long life to “good luck.”

“I was very active in my business and did a lot of walking during the day. I was not sedentary,” he said.

Now, exercise is limited to “some knee bends every morning to keep my legs stronger.”

“My father died of a heart attack in his early 50s, and my mother died in her early 60s of a stroke, so I don’t think my genes are very good,” Hirsh said.

Geriatrician Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, said research shows that behaviors have had a greater influence on survival up until the late 80s, since he said most people have the right genes to get there as long as their behaviors aren’t harmful. But once people reach the 90s and beyond, genetics play a more significant role.

“To get to these very oldest ages, you really have to have the right genes in your corner,” he said.

As an international leader in the field, Perls’ focus is on finding the right mix of behavior, environment and genetics to produce long lives. His work includes a National Institute on Aging study called the Long Life Family Study.

“There are always questions about environment versus genes,” said endocrinologist Nir Barzilai, founding director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. “ It’s really 50-50, no matter how you look at it.”

Barzilai’s studies include centenarians and their children, as well as efforts to slow the process of aging.

Perls said his research and that of Barzilai and others has found commonalities among those who reach the 100-year-old milestone: Few smoke, nearly all of the men are lean, and centenarians have high levels of the “good cholesterol.” Studies show that whatever their stress level, they manage it well. And they’re related to other centenarians or have a parent or grandparent who lived past 80.

These lessons of long life are playing well with the public, who have made changes for the better in the 21st century, Vaupel said.

“We don’t smoke or drink so much, and we’re better at exercise. People are taking better care of themselves. People are better educated, and the more educated know when to go to the doctor and follow the doctor’s advice,” he said, adding that people now tend to have higher income and can spend more on health care and improved diet.

“The most important thing is we’re living longer and living longer healthily,” Vaupel said.

 

Medical Technology Advances and Long-Term Care

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Couple on cruiseMedical advances have most definitely increased the number of years we live and have decreased the number of early sudden deaths. For example, identifying asymptomatic diseases through screening has helped to reduce their incidence and severity.

The overall results of medical advances are that:

 People are living longer and requiring additional years of care. 

 Hospital stays are shorter because more services are available at home.

 People are surviving more accidents, not always with full recovery, creating a

new group of LTC patients.

Some researchers argue that medical advances have increased life expectancy but have not delayed the onset of illness, predicting that declining death rates may actually increase LTC needs. That is, more people are living long enough to develop age-related conditions such as dementia, or they are living longer with existing disabilities and chronic conditions.

Advances in pharmacology and pharmaceuticals also impact the need for long-term care. These advances have not only reduced the symptoms of diseases but also have slowed their progression, thereby increasing longevity. However, increased longevity may necessitate periods of longer care.

The irony is that as medical advances help people live longer, the likelihood increases that long-term care will be necessary.

What is noninstitutional care? 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 31 percent of all caregivers are employed outside the home. This type of care is referred to as noninstitutional care.

Note that employed caregivers spend no less time on elder care than those who are not employed outside the home. Workers who provide elder care spend approximately four hours a day on caregiving in addition to their other responsibilities.

Consumer Attitudes and Understanding

Another social factor associated with the growing long-term care need is current consumer awareness and attitude. Generally, the public at large does not have a good understanding of the long-term care need, including why and how to plan for long-term care. Many simply deny that they will need long-term care; others believe, incorrectly, that Social Security, Medicare, or their existing health insurance will cover the costs.

They do not see long-term care as something one needs to plan for in advance, such as they would retirement. This attitudinal “disconnect” also explains one of the reasons why people may not consider the purchase of long-term care insurance.

According to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coverage purchased to cover acute medical care far surpasses the coverage purchased to cover long-term custodial care. Whereas almost all older individuals are protected from high acute medical care costs through Medicare and private Medigap insurance, a very small percentage have purchased long-term custodial care insurance.

This report cited the following, among others, as key factors limiting demand for long-term care insurance:

lack of information – Many underestimate the likelihood of requiring LTC services and the potential costs of those services.

 misperception of public and private programs – Many people believe that Medicare, retiree health plans, or Medicare supplement insurance covers LTC services. This is not the case.

 delayed preparation for/denial of long-term care needs – Many do not think about preparing for long-term care needs until the need arises. At that point, they may be too old or disabled to purchase insurance.

 long lag time between purchase and benefit payment – Long-term care insurance must be purchased before it is needed; often, this means a period of many years between purchase and when benefits are likely to be paid. Consumers prefer to spend their current dollars on coverage that provides a more near-term benefit, such as Medigap policies.

affordability – Many of today’s older consumers have low incomes and cannot afford long-term care premiums.

perception of need – Some consumers decide they do not need long-term care insurance because they have too few assets to protect or have family and friends available to provide care.

Consumer attitudes and perceptions notwithstanding, long-term care is a growing reality. It is also a very expensive reality.

The Cost of Long-Term Care

The medical, personal, and social services necessary because of an accident, a chronic illness, a disability, or simply the phenomenon of aging—services associated with long-term care—are among the most expensive of health care costs, especially considering the great numbers of people affected.

The actual cost of long-term care depends on where the care is received, what type of provider administers the care, and how long the care is required.

Some people require minimal assistance with only a few activities of daily living (ADLs) for a limited time.

Others require skilled nursing facility care for an extended period.

Unfortunately, no one can predict who will be stricken with the need for long-term care, what type of care will be needed, or how long the care will be necessary.

Planning for Long-Term Care

Given the likelihood of needing long-term care and the tremendous cost that this care entails, it is important that individuals plan for it—and the sooner the better. Certainly, there are barriers. For example, people tend not to think about becoming older and needing care, or they don’t anticipate that they will ever need care themselves; they resist the idea of becoming dependent.

They may believe [erroneously] that Medicare or their current health insurance will cover the cost of this type of sustained, ongoing care. They may find it difficult to raise this issue with their loved ones. Or they may underestimate the time and toll that future caregiving will demand of their family or friends.

Some are not aware of the tremendous costs of this care or how it is paid. Some may think of long-term care simply as nursing home care and assume that the “government” will cover the cost. Some are confronted with conflicting financial priorities. And some people may simply not know where or how to begin the planning.

But for every reason why people do not plan in advance for long-term care, there is a reason why they should:

Advanced planning for future care needs will allow for greater independence and choice as to where and how the care is delivered.

 Advanced planning can mean greater financial security, not only for those who may need care but also for their family and loved ones.

 Advanced planning can ease the financial and emotional toll on one’s family and release them from the burden of providing the care, if and when it is needed.

 Advanced planning will avoid the uncertainty, confusion, and mistakes that could arise in the event of a health care need.

 Advanced planning will promote a continued quality of life, as the person defines it, when care is needed.

Seniors Tell Medical Students Their Needs From Doctors

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Belle LikoverWhen doctors told Robert Madison his wife had dementia, they didn’t explain very much. His successful career as an architect hardly prepared him for what came next.

“A week before she passed away her behavior was different, and I was angry because I thought she was deliberately not doing things,” Madison, now 92, told a group of nearly 200 students at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

“You are knowledgeable in treating patients, but I’m the patient, too, and if someone had said she can’t control anything, I would have been better able to understand what was taking place.”

Belle Likover (pictured) recounted for the students how she insisted when her husband was dying of lymphoma that doctors in the hospital not make decisions without involving his oncologist. “When someone is in the hospital, they need an advocate with them at all times,” said Likover, who turns 96 this month [October 2015]. “But to expect that from families when they are in crisis is expecting too much. The medical profession has to address that.”

Madison and Likover were among six people all over the age of 90 invited to talk to the second-year medical students. The annual panel discussion, called “Life Over 90,” is aimed at nudging students toward choosing geriatric medicine, the primary care field that focuses on the elderly. It is among the lowest-paid specialties, and geriatricians must contend with complex cases that are time consuming and are often not reimbursed adequately by Medicare or private insurance. And their patients can have diseases that can only be managed but never cured.

Students often are attracted to more lucrative specialties such as orthopedics or cardiology, said Jeremy Hill, who was in the audience. One undeniable factor is money: the 35-year-old North Carolina native may owe as much as $300,000 when he graduates, enough – he is quick to point out – to buy “a nice-sized house.”

Yet Hill is one of the few Case students who say they are leaning toward choosing geriatrics.

The American Geriatrics Society estimates that the nation will require about 30,000 geriatricians by 2030 to serve the 30 percent of Americans over age 65 with the most complicated medical problems. Yet there are about 7,000 geriatricians currently practicing. To meet the needs, the society estimates medical schools would have to train at least 1,500 geriatricians annually between now and 2030, or five times as many as last year.

The low number of geriatricians is not surprising considering that their average salary was $184,000 in 2010, almost three times lower than what radiologists earned, the American Geriatrics Society has reported.

Elizabeth O’Toole, a geriatrician and med school professor who arranged the panel discussion, acknowledged in her introduction that most students were interested in other specialties. Yet she warned them not to overlook the needs and outlooks of older patients.

“No matter what you’ll be doing, you are going to be working with these people,” she said.  More than 400,000 people 80 years old and older received knee replacements last year, 35 percent of men over 80 and 19 percent of women have coronary heart disease and the most common medical procedure among people over 65 is cataract surgery. Successful outcomes depend on the patient’s cooperation and that, she said, requires “an understanding of who the patient is.”

Students who braced themselves for a solemn litany of medical problems from the panel were in for a surprise. It wasn’t just what the visitors said that made an impression, but how they said it.

The group offered the students advice, telling the doctors-to-be to look at their patients instead of typing notes into a computer, take more time with older patients and answer their questions.

“Having to see so many patients a day is tragic,” said Simon Ostrach, 92, a professor emeritus of engineering at Case, who recalled being rushed through an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon who did little for “excruciating pain” after his hip replacement.

When it was her turn, Likover (pictured) pushed back her chair, stood up and had no need for the microphone she was offered.

“Getting old is a question of being able to adapt to your changing life situation, having a little less energy, not being quite as healthy as were you were before,” said Likover, a retired social worker. Four years ago, she was hospitalized twice for congestive heart failure until she learned how to manage the disease through diet. She also has an occasional irregular heart beat and only recently began walking with a cane. She swims at least three times a week, serves on several committees addressing seniors’ issues, and is a Jon Stewart fan because “getting a laugh every day is very, very helpful.”

“I have lived a very good and hopefully useful life and death does not concern me. It is going to happen,” she told the students. “And I think that kind of outlook, not worrying about every little ache and pain makes a big difference and a very happy life.”

“That’s a perfect seque to my story,” said Ostrach. “I attribute my longevity to smoking, drinking and overeating,” he told the students. And doctors who tried to reform him “are all long dead and gone.” He was an athlete in college, wrestling and playing tennis, “but as I got past 60, I found that listening to opera, smoking good cigars and having a little cognac was much more pleasant.” All in moderation, he added.

Efforts to introduce relatively healthy older adults to medical students can “reduce the sense of futility and show [the students] that there are real people with real lives who can benefit from quality health care,” said Chris Langston, program director at the John A. Hartford Foundation, which focuses on aging and health who has been analyzing the trend for the past several years.

But Jeremy Hill and the roughly two dozen members of Case’s “geriatric interest group” are the exception. For them, the challenge of a complicated patient — “figuring out the puzzle” as one student put it — is what makes geriatric medicine worthwhile, even when a cure is out of reach.

“I have such respect and admiration for this population, and if I could somehow give them one extra good day they would not have had otherwise,” said Hill, who then paused for a moment, “I would be privileged to work with them.”

After the session, Hill went up to Ostrach, who had said he’s been lonely since his wife died. After chatting for a few minutes, he told Ostrach, “If you’d like to have lunch sometime, please call me,” and handed him a scrap of paper with his phone number.