Reducing Disabilities As We Age

As our population ages, disabilities will reach record numbers and affect the quality of life of baby boomers and caregivers. Those who suffer from a number of ailments at one time face substantial hurdles to maintain a quality lifestyle, and quality care. To learn how a Geriatric Care Manager can assist your family in South Florida with comprehensive care, visit

Experts on aging ponder best way to reduce disabilities

No canes or walkers for me, thank you.

How to make that wish a reality for aging Baby Boomers will be one of dozens of health issues that aging experts will address at the 65th annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America beginning Friday in New Orleans.

Disabilities — expected to reach record numbers as the nation’s 77 million baby boomers begin to grow old — could cut into their quality of life and put a huge burden on caregivers. The size of the older population is expected to swell to 90 million by 2050, nearly triple the current number.

“Aging is going to become mainstream,” says Jay Magaziner, co-director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Research on Aging. “You’re going to see more and more research devoted to how to reduce disabilities.”

Remaining active and strong — even as the body starts losing strength through the natural aging process — has long been regarded as one of the keys to longevity and to maintaining quality of life.

New research consistent with that philosophy is being presented at the conference by Michelle Gray and other exercise physiologists at the University of Central Oklahoma. Their research on high-intensity resistance training in women in their 80s shows two days a week of training improved lean tissue mass during a 24-week training period, gains that can help maintain independence.

Other research about the benefits of exercise is being presented by Duke, Peking and Shanghai universities. Jama Purser of Duke’s physical therapy division is one of the panelists who studied past exercise history along with the current exercise habits of 16,020 Chinese elders, 65 and older. They found exercise in the past offered no protection against early death, while elderly people who developed exercise programs conferred the greatest protective effect against mortality.

However, becoming or staying physically active could be challenging for Baby Boomers who have increasing rates of obesity and obesity-related arthritis, says Sandra Reynolds of the University of South Florida’s School of Aging.

“Two of the biggest problems facing Boomer health are obesity and lack of activity,” says Reynolds, a GSA executive committee member. “There’s nothing about obesity and arthritis that gets better with inactivity.”

Reynolds’ research found obesity to have little effect on the life expectancy of adults age 70 and older, but the obese are more likely to become disabled.

“Quality of life diminishes with disabilities,” she cautions.

Magaziner’s research of the elderly and hip fractures tells a similar tale.

“After hip fractures, 50% of patients a year later can’t walk independently,” he says. “We want to learn how we can reduce that kind of disability.”

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