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New study reveals age doesn't equal illness

Maryalene LaPonsie | January 27, 2011

In a society that glorifies youth, we seem to fear aging more than anything else. Botox, teeth whitening, and tummy tucks are among many procedures that reflect our obsession with staying young as long as possible. But new research from Canada indicates that aging might not be all that bad. In fact, healthy seniors actually use less health care than younger counterparts with chronic conditions, the study says.

Medical insurance usage by seniors

The research in question comes from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). The group studied the health care needs of seniors not living in institutions. Its findings indicate that it is not your age that determines your health care needs but whether you have chronic conditions. For example, seniors age 85 or older made less than half the health care visits as seniors age 65 to 74 who have three or more chronic illnesses.

Four other key CIHI findings:

  1. 24 percent of Canadian seniors have three or more chronic conditions and account for 40 percent of the health care usage among all the country's seniors
  2. Seniors with three or more chronic conditions visit health care professionals three times as often as seniors with no chronic illnesses
  3. Seniors with three or more chronic conditions made three times as many visits to the emergency room as those with no chronic illnesses
  4. Adults age 45 to 64 with three or more chronic conditions made six times as many health care visits as those in that age range without any chronic conditions
While the study did discover that seniors were more likely to have chronic conditions than young adults, developing illness is by no means a sure thing for seniors. According to the CIHI, one in four Canadian seniors have no chronic health conditions.

Health insurance lessons from Canada

Although the CIHI study specifically looked at health care costs for Canadian seniors, its findings pinpoint a universal truth: chronic illnesses cost big bucks. Four of the most common chronic illnesses are also largely preventable:

  1. Hypertension
  2. Type 2 diabetes
  3. Heart disease
  4. Emphysema
As U.S. policymakers and health care professionals look for ways to contain medical insurance costs, they, too, have set their sights on chronic illness. Federal health reform includes a free annual wellness visit for those with Medicare health insurance. In addition, preventive care such as certain cancer screenings is being provided to seniors without co-insurance or deductible requirements.

The health reform provisions are part of a larger movement in the U.S. medical establishment to promote good health. In particular, the wave of obesity crossing the country has been targeted for its role in creating an epidemic of chronic illness. Health care professionals have repeatedly argued that there is no better way to reduce health care costs than reduction of our collective waistlines.

In the end, for those who are inching past middle life and approaching the golden years, the CIHI study offers a certain reassurance. The senior years don't have to be marked by illness, but you should take the steps now to improve your health before you develop preventable, chronic conditions.

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