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Aging: Paying the Physical Price for Longer Life

Americans are living longer, but those added years are more likely to be a time of disease and disability.

Data has found that while life expectancy has steadily increased over the past decade, the prevalence of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes has also increased, and disability has grown as well.

For example, in 1998 about 16 percent of men in their 70s had a mobility problem — that is, they failed one of four commonly used physical tests. By 2006, almost 25 percent failed at least one.

Writing in the January issue of The Journal of Gerontology B, the authors conclude that people live longer not because they are less likely to get sick, but because they survive longer with disease.

As a result, a 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally.

The lead author, Eileen M. Crimmins, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, said that while we have been very successful in increasing the length of life, it comes at a cost.

“Longer life is what we want,” she said. “But we’re going to have to pay for it with more treatment of diseases and accommodations for disability.”

The New York Times