Business of Health Care: Elderly in Good Health

Dec 20, 2019

A common myth about aging is that older adults are burdened by illness and feel lousy much of the time. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Most seniors report feeling distinctly positive about their health. When asked in a federal survey to rate their overall health, 82% of adults ages 65 to 74 described it as excellent, very good or good. By contrast, only 18% described their health as fair or poor. For many, good health means more than the lack of illness or disability.

The United States of Aging Survey reports 60 percent of seniors expect their health to stay the same in next five to 10 years. That seems unrealistic — what some scientists call “optimism bias” — but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a rosy outlook about the future.

The components of health that seniors tend to value are vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life. Meanwhile, poor physical functioning plays a less important role.

Determining the shape people are in is easier than you might think. It’s called “subjective age.” When scientists ask: “How old do you feel, most of the time?” the answer tends to reflect the state of both physical and mental health.

Scientists find that people who feel younger than their chronological age are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older. They perform better on memory tasks and are at lower risk of cognitive decline.

In other words, there’s scientific evidence behind the old saying that you’re only as old as you feel.