Part of the common wisdom about age is that older people are somehow getting younger. 70 is the new 60. 80 is the new 70. It is not unusual at all for people to live to 90 and beyond. However, Americans over 60 are very different than they were 50 years ago. In some cases, those differences are profound.
Life expectancy continues to vary by location. Air pollution, access to health care, and resident behavior all contribute to the nearly 7-year gap in life expectancy between states. These are the states where people live the longest.
1. The life expectancy of men in 1970 was 68. That has risen to 78. For women, the figure was 74 in 1970. It is now 80.
2. The treatments for hypertension (high blood pressure) are much more effective than 50 years ago. Beta-blockers, a major medical breakthrough, occurred in the 1960s. Other major advances went into trials in the 1970s and are available today. Hypertension is a major cause of strokes, one of the deadliest conditions.
3. The first highly effective cholesterol treatments have reached the market. Statins were found to be effective at lowering cholesterol. The medications helped cut down on heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
4. Cars are safer. The rate of fatal accidents in the United States is highest among people over 80. Due to the introduction of such advancements as safety belts, airbags and antilock brakes, driving is not as dangerous as it used to be. A few vehicles truly excel at protecting passengers. These are the safest cars in America.
5. There have been advancements in research about healthy food, and people make more healthy choices. Despite a rise in obesity in the United States, a Pew research study showed that since 1970 people eat less meat, eggs and potatoes. They also drink less milk. Many Americans simply have a healthier diet.
6. Doctors can treat patients without “seeing them.” The rise in telemedicine and electronic medical records allows doctors to treat patients more quickly without office visits. This, in turn, can cut the time between diagnosis and treatment.
7. People smoke less. Smoking leads to lung cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease, particularly in older Americans. The rate of smoking has dropped from 42% of the population in 1965 to 14% in 2017.
8. Fewer people have untreated hepatitis B, a significant cause of liver disease. The first widely available treatments went on the market in 1981.
9. Cancer treatments are more effective. The death rate from cancer was 199 deaths per 100,000 people in 1975. Now, that figure is 178. The number of years that cancer patients survive also has increased. Cancer death rates are highest in people over 70.
10 More people exercise, which has been shown to improve the quality of life in older people. Exercise rates among adults were under 30% in 1960 and have risen to closer to 70%.
Science and better habits, for the most part, are why older Americans are different than they used to be.