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Americans living longer, healthier than ever before

July 30, 2013

As medical technology improves and the focus on healthy aging continues to grow, it's no surprise that life expectancies have increased in recent years. However, there was often an assumption that even while people are living longer, they're not necessarily living healthier, but results of a new study suggest otherwise. Researchers from Harvard Medical School found that people have become increasingly healthier later in life, which could help reshape the concept of senior living even further.

The findings are based on an extensive analysis of data concerning more than 90,000 subjects polled between 1991 and 2009 as part of the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. By comparing their answers to the participants' Medicare records for the rest of their life, researchers were able to get a clearer picture of their quality of life as they get older. The survey also highlighted how independent they were by revealing whether participants were able to cook, clean, bathe themselves and perform other activities of daily living. Lead author David Cutler says the improvement to both longevity and health has to do with increased education.

"People are much better educated about their health now," Cutler said. "People are taking steps to help prevent long-term cognitive decline. We don't have any way yet to slow down something like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, but there is a lot we can do for other health problems."

This isn't the first study to suggest that seniors are more likely to take proactive steps than in years past. Most recently, a study from the University of Pennsylvania found that when people were told they were at a high risk for Alzheimer's, they made lifestyle changes, such as exercising more and eating better, in an effort to reduce their chances of developing the disease.