There is a myth that “to be old is to be sick.”

An article in the Journals of Gerontology finds that this myth may be just that.

A myth.

The article reports on a study that reviewed five markers of health and quality of life for eight age groups beginning from age 51 years.

The five markers of health were

  1. self-reported health equal to “excellent” or “very good” (1 or 2 on a 5-point scale); 
  2. receiving no help or supervision with activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs); 
  3. having no limitations in the ability to work at a job or do housework because of an impairment or a physical or mental health problem; 
  4. not having been diagnosed with any of five leading chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or stroke); and 
  5. having a perfect score on a Quality of Life measure.

ADLs included bathing, dressing, or getting around the house. 

IADLs included using the telephone, paying bills, taking medications, preparing light meals, doing laundry, or going shopping.

The assumption that as the population ages, there is a decline in health as well as a decreased capacity for work, self care and active living which leads to a greater overall dependency, is wrong.

A substantial number of people in every age group report their health as excellent or very good.

56% of individuals aged 85 or older said they receive no help or supervision of ADLs or IADLS.

32% of the same aged individuals have no clinical diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or stroke.

96% of individuals aged 51 to 54 report that they need no help and 75% of that age group have not been diagnosed with any of the five major chronic diseases.

As the population ages the proportion of individuals in good health declines gradually.

A substantial number of the aged have good health and active lifestyles no matter what age they are.

The study’s authors say

 (G)rowing older is not accompanied by life-limiting declines in health. Conversely, a substantial number of younger individuals (aged 51–54) have significant health limitations.

 (A) relatively large proportion of the (older) population is functionally indistinguishable from people 20 to 30 years their junior.

This is the good news.

If people make healthier choices earlier in their lives, they can maintain their health at much older ages.

There are implications for the funding of health and the promotion of healthy behaviours with the knowledge that “to be old is to be sick’ is wrong. 

To learn more about healthy ageing: