Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Golden years that glitter

Medical memo

Golden years that glitter

"Every man desires to live long," wrote Jonathan Swift in the 18th century, "but no man would be old." In the 18th and 19th centuries, achieving longevity was hard enough. As human lifespan increased in the 20th century, people set their goals higher, trying to delay the onset of disease until old age. But in the 21st century we want even more health and vigor in our advanced years. And a study says that Swift's goal is more realistic than he could have ever imagined.

The study evaluated nearly all the residents of Cache County, Utah, who were 65 or older on January 1, 1995. All the subjects provided information about their overall health along with details about specific aspects of healthy aging, including independent living, vision, hearing, activities of daily life, absence of physical illness, mental abilities, mood, social supports and interactions, and religious participation and spirituality.

The results were encouraging. Between the ages of 65 and 75, 80% to 90% of the volunteers were healthy according to each measure. Even among the oldest of the old, the majorities were independent and considered their health to be excellent or good. Vision and hearing suffered in the oldest old, but social supports and mood remained good. Best of all, perhaps, 70% of the men aged 85 and older retained normal cognition.

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