Study Reveals Factors of Exceptional Health in Old Age

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 General News
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PORTLAND, Ore., Oct. 27 Elderly people who have a positiveoutlook, lower stress levels, moderate alcohol consumption, abstention fromtobacco, moderate to higher income and no chronic health conditions are morelikely to thrive in their old age, according to a study in the October issueof the Journals of Gerontology, Medical Sciences.

The first study of its kind, researchers from Portland State University,the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Oregon Health & ScienceUniversity, and Statistics Canada surveyed 2,432 older Canadians about theirquality of life. The few who maintained excellent health over an entire decadewere considered "thrivers." Most previous studies have been based on one-timesurveys and focused on factors that contribute to poor health.

"Important predictors of 'thriving' were the absence of chronic illness,income over $30,000, having never smoked, and drinking alcohol in moderation,"said Mark Kaplan, DrPH, lead author and professor of community health atPortland State University. "We also found that people who had a positiveoutlook and lower stress levels were more likely to thrive in old age."

"Many of these factors can be modified when you are young or middle-aged,"said David Feeny, Ph.D., study co-author and senior investigator at the KaiserPermanente Center for Health Research. "While these findings may seem likecommon sense, now we have evidence about which factors contribute toexceptional health during retirement years."

Study participants filled out an extensive health survey every other year,starting in 1994 and continuing through 2004. One measure, called the HealthUtilities Index, asked people to rate their abilities in eight categories,including vision, hearing, speech, ambulation, dexterity, emotion, cognition,and pain. "Thrivers" were those who rated themselves as having no or onlymild disability in all eight categories on at least five of the six surveys.

If respondents reported moderate or severe disability on any of the sixsurveys, they were classified as not having a high quality of life orexcellent health. Just over half (or 50.8 percent) of the respondents startedout as "thrivers," but by the end of the 10 years, only 8 percent of therespondents were considered thrivers. At the end of the study period,47 percent of the respondents were classified as not having a high quality oflife or excellent health. Thirty-six percent had died and 9 percent wereinstitutionalized.

"Even though the study was conducted in Canada, the findings are certainlyapplicable to the United States and other industrialized nations," saysBentson McFarland, MD, Ph.D., co-author and professor of psychiatry, publichealth and preventive medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. "Ourpopulation here in the United States is similar demographically to Canada's,and both health care systems rely on the same underlying technologies."

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.Authors include Mark S. Kaplan, Ph.D., and Nathalie Huguet, PhD, from PortlandState University; Heather Orpana, Ph.D., from Statistics Canada and theUniversity of Ottawa; David Feeny, Ph.D., from the Kaiser Permanente Centerfor Health Research and Health Utilities Incorporated; Bentson H. McFarland,MD, Ph.D., from Oregon Health & Science University, and Nancy Ross, Ph.D., atMcGill University in Canada.

Author David Feeny has a proprietary interest in Health UtilitiesIncorporated (HUInc.), Dundas, Ontario, Canada. The HUI survey instrumentused in this study was developed in cooperation with the Canadian government.Neither Feeny nor HUInc. received any monetary reimbursement for use of thesurvey.

About the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research

Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research, founded in 1964, is anonprofit research institution dedicated to advancing knowledge to improvehealth. It has research sites in Portland, Ore., Honolulu, Hawaii and Atlanta.

About Kaiser Permanente Research

Kaiser Permanente's eight research centers comprise one of the largestresearch programs in the United States and engage in work designed to improvethe health of individuals everywhere. KP HealthConnect(TM) , KaiserPermanente's electronic health record, and other resources provide populationdata for research, and in turn, research findings are fed into KPHealthConnect to arm physicians with research and clinical data. KaiserPermanente's research program works with national and local health agenciesand community organizations to share and widely disseminate its research data.Kaiser Permanente's research program is funded in part by Kaiser Permanente'sCommunity Benefit division, which in 2007 directed an estimated $1 billion inhealth services, technology, and funding toward total community health.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is America's leading integrated health plan. Founded in1945, the program is headquartered in Oakland, Calif. Kaiser Permanente serves8.7 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Today itencompasses Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitalsand their subsidiaries, and the Permanente Medical Groups. Nationwide, KaiserPermanente includes approximately 164,000 technical, administrative andclerical employees and caregivers, and 14,000 physicians representing allspecialties. The organization's Labor Management Partnership is the largestsuch health care partnership in the United States. It governs how more than130,000 workers, managers, physicians and dentists work together to makeKaiser Permanente the best place to receive care, and the best place to work.For more Kaiser Permanente news, visit the Kaiser Permanente News Center at:

SOURCE Kaiser Permanente

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