Are you the type of person who wants to live to be over 100, or do you know someone who does? There are many people out there who are motivated by the idea of a very long life, wanting to push the limits of human mortality and live as much as they can while they're alive.
Though it's a valiant desire and it often means they lead a healthier lifestyle because of it, living a long time isn't all it's cracked up to be. In face, recent research says it may be far more dire than we could have known.
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Beyond Our Years
The wish for a long life is a common one. We not only wish it upon ourselves, wanting to experience all that life has to offer and see what becomes of our children, our grand children, our friends and family, but we wish it upon others too. We want to see those we love experiencing happiness for as long as they're able to.
What if wishing a long life on someone was actually condemning them to a life of pain? That's what some researchers believe after they examined our increasing life expectancies.
All Pros? No Cons?
Since 1950, the global average life expectancy has gone from 47 to 73, a whopping 26 years! There are a number of factors that play into this increase, including a global reduction in poverty, the elimination of certain diseases, and so on, but what are we really achieving here?
Sure, life is becoming longer, but what does it mean to prolong death? What is that experience like for those who live well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond?
Their Final Year
A team from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden decided to examine this very question, having released their findings in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The investigation was headed by demographer Marcus Ebeling, whose team examined population databases that tracked the deaths of people over 70 in Sweden between 2018 and 2020.
They focused on the last 12 months of these people's lives while also tracking how most of these people wound up passing away. Namely, they wanted to measure the 'quality' of these deaths.
What Makes A Good Death?
The 'quality' could be measured in a few ways. Was it a short or long death? Were they at home, in a hospital, or in a care facility of some kind? What was their mental function like at the time of their death? All these factors and more could contribute to the perceived quality of someone's death. Wouldn't we all rather die at home surrounded by loved ones with all our physical and mental facilities still in check?
Unfortunately, that's frequently not the case for those who live longer than the national average.
Not So Common
"Two-thirds of all deaths followed a trajectory with extensive elder care utilization throughout the last year of life, and at least half additionally showed extensive medical care utilization," the study reports. "Most deaths today do not comply with what is often referred to as a 'good' death."
They then describe a good death as, "Retaining control, being pain-free, having the choice of the place of death, and not having life prolonged pointlessly are principles that have been mentioned, among others."
Life Versus Health
They also found that long end-of-life care was becoming more common in those who make it over the age of 83, Sweden's average life expectancy. This means that those who get to live longer are more likely to be dying in worse, drawn-out deaths that are rife with medical issues and treatment.
These results show the stark difference between someone's 'lifespan' and their 'healthspan.' A lifespan is how long someone lives, but a healthspan is how long someone lives in good health.
A Swift Drop
In an ideal world, these would be roughly the same, meaning people aren't suffering from intense medical issues for years before they pass. However, that's not the case.
Though the average lifespan has gone up globally, the healthspan has not. In The United States, there's a good 10-15 years between someone's healthspan and their lifespan, meaning people are spending upwards of a decade struggling with a great number of potential health issues that come with old age. Their health declines greatly in the last years of their lives.
Wait, but shouldn't end-of-life care help people manage or even increase their healthspan? You'd think, but the results didn't point this way. Instead, end-of-life care appears to have little benefit to one's healthspan.
The only way to encourage a longer healthspan and hopefully close the gap between that and one's lifespan is to practice healthy habits. Eating well, regularly exercising, not smoking, not drinking often, and maintaining more social aspects like a healthy social life and regularly giving your brain a workout can all help increase one's healthspan.
The pursuit of health is the true pursuit of healthy, happy longevity. For those who want that, anyway.