United States is on the brink of a longevity revolution. By 2030, the
number of older Americans will have more than doubled to 70 million,
or one in every five Americans. The growing number and proportion of
older adults places increasing demands on the public health system and
on medical and social services.
Chronic diseases exact a particularly heavy health and economic burden
on older adults due to associated long-term illness, diminished quality
of life, and greatly increased health care costs. Although the risk of
disease and disability clearly increases with advancing age, poor health
is not an inevitable consequence of aging.
Much of the illness, disability, and death associated with chronic disease
is avoidable through known prevention measures. Key measures include
practicing a healthy lifestyle (e.g., regular physical activity, healthy
eating, and avoiding tobacco use) and the use of early detection practices
(e.g., screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers, diabetes
and its complications, and depression).
Critical knowledge gaps exist for responding to the health needs of
older adults. For chronic diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer's
disease, arthritis, depression, psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis,
Parkinson's disease, and urinary incontinence, much remains to be learned
about their distribution in the population, associated risk factors,
and effective measures to prevent or delay their onset.
Nearly 40% of deaths in America can be attributed to smoking, physical
inactivity, poor diet, or alcohol misuse-behaviors practiced by many
people every day for much of their lives. Adopting healthy behaviors
such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and avoiding
tobacco use can prevent or control the devastating effects of many of
the nation's leading causes of death regardless of one's age.
Regular physical activity greatly reduces a person's risk from
dying of heart disease, and decreases the risk for colon cancer, diabetes,
and high blood pressure. Physical activity also helps to control weight;
contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; helps to relieve the
pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and can
decrease the need for hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications.
Finally, physical activity does not need to be strenuous to be beneficial;
people of all ages benefit from moderate physical activity. However,
people tend to be less active as they age. By age 75, about one in three
men and one in two women do not engage in any physical activity.
Good nutrition, including a diet that is low in saturated fats
and contains five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day,
is vital in maintaining good health. Improving the diet of older adults
could extend the productive life span of Americans and reduce the occurrence
of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer,
diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Tobacco Use is the single most preventable cause of death and
disease in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that
cigarette smoking is responsible for one of every five deaths in the
United States, or more than 440,000 deaths each year. Tobacco use increases
the risk for diseases of the heart and cancer. Smoking cessation has
major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages, regardless
of whether they have a smoking-related disease.