Our efforts to dodge disability appear to be falling short. Gerontologists once hoped for a “compression of morbidity”; the idea was that we could remain healthy and active until our bodies fail at advanced ages, and we swiftly died. But new research shows that this has not materialized for most of the elderly. The price we’re paying for extended life spans is a high rate of late-life disability.
Medical science has promised a longer average lifespan. It has delivered in spades. Unfortunately, this can be a mixed blessing.
Everyone wants to live longer and enjoy a high quality of life all along the way. Problem: for many Americans, this turns out to be an “either/or” proposition. Modern medical science may offer a longer life, but not necessarily a longer life without disability.
This subject was taken up recently by The New York Times in an article titled “High Disability Rates Persist in Old Age.”
Medical science and gerontologists have long sought a “compression of morbidity.” In other words, they hoped the average quality of life would extend well into the average length of life. Instead, it turns out that longer lives are not without cost, both in ability and, often tragically, in terms of real dollar cost.
Gerontologists will continue to work on the compression of morbidity problem, or lack thereof. However, for those alive and planning today for their future tomorrow, this reality calls for a certain heightened level of awareness.
Either we will experience a shortened or normal life span with decent health until the end, a lengthened life span with a long and protracted disability until the end, or something in between. Regardless, each of us needs to make proper estate and financial plans for any outcome.
Long-term care insurance is one tool to consider, especially if you want to preserve your options and protect your assets should your length of life exceed your quality of life someday.
Reference: The New York Times – The New Old Age (July 8, 2013) “High Disability Rates Persist in Old Age”