Health Span: a Nifty Measure

October 19, 2011
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One of the striking things about people who live to very old ages is how spry and healthy many are until close to the end. There are exceptions of course, but in general the very old are a hopeful beacon for those who are younger. So I was happy to see a Wall Street Journal article (Living Lab Sets Up at a Seniors Residence), which profiles efforts by the Mayo Clinic to apply research on healthier aging to an old-age residence next door.

One of the striking things about people who live to very old ages is how spry and healthy many are until close to the end. There are exceptions of course, but in general the very old are a hopeful beacon for those who are younger. So I was happy to see a Wall Street Journal article (Living Lab Sets Up at a Seniors Residence), which profiles efforts by the Mayo Clinic to apply research on healthier aging to an old-age residence next door. The article introduced me to the term “health span,” defined as “the number of years living on one’s own and free of major disease.” That’s a great objective that conforms to how almost everyone wants to age.

Researchers –and presumably their subjects, too– are looking for ways to extend the health span and bring it as close to the lifespan as possible. Techniques include medication adherence apps, vital sign monitoring systems, and seeking medications to improve muscle function. The article doesn’t discuss non-medical interventions, but there is a photo of residents lifting weights so presumably that’s an important part of the approach. I sure hope so.

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“If you can attack the intersection between aging and chronic disease, you could really improve the health and independence of older people,” says Dr. [James] Kirkland, [head of Mayo’s Center on Aging].

“This could substantially decrease health costs, especially if we are able to extend health span and shorten the period of disability at the end of the life span,” he adds.

I hope it works out.