Living longer you say…
Life expectancy, and the debate of health as a definition has been of great discussion in the United States, and around the world. Healthcare professionals and legislators are turning to other great nations, such as Japan, and the United Kingdom where individuals are not only living longer, but also living healthier. Life expectancy in the United States continues to be a great debate, and has become a well-documented, researched and discussed topic.
Greater improvements in technology, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and education among many topics have helped to increase life expectancy. However there lies greater concern. The great debate of healthspan, and lifespan (life expectancy). Which is more important? Is it a personal view? A societal opinion?
Healthspan refers to the years an individual lives generally in ‘good health’. One’s lifespan may extend far beyond their healthspan. For example, an individual who has suffered a traumatic brain injury may be diagnosed brain dead, but they may continue living in a coma based upon familial wishes. However, his or her healthspan would have ended at the point of the traumatic incident. Although that may reiterate a more extreme scenario the difference between lifespan and healthspan should be understood at all levels.
This topic of discussion seems to become very apparent when working with aging populations. As the aging process continues there is an increased prevalence of chronic conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there is common notion that living with a chronic condition is the ‘end all be all’, and even ‘normal’. In many cases, a diagnosis leads to an extreme decline in health and well-being. However, the condition itself does not create the drastic decline, it is the thought of being affected by that condition that plays a more substantial role, especially in the early stages.
Let’s take a look at an early diagnosis, or early on-set dementia. After a routine visit with the family physician, an individual, let’s call him George, is refferred to a local neurologist. Upon evaluation the neurologist is confident that George, a highly-educated, 57-year old man has incurred early on-set dementia. Now, many are aware what the potential dementia can cause, and that creates a picture for many that defines this point as the beginning of the end. This is the point in which individuals lose hope, refrain from everyday activities, disengage with friends, and ultimately become saddened and even depressed. This is the scary side of chronic conditions.
Although the cards dealt may not agree with planned life events, there is no reason to run for the hills. Fortunately, there have been great advancements regarding chronic conditions. It should be known that one can live happily with dementia, one can live happily with Parkinson’s disease, one can live happily with Alzheimer’s disease. Some things are out of one’s control, however choosing to ‘be your diagnosis’ can be considered giving up, throwing in the towel, waving the white flag. Chronic conditions sure have the power to affect lives, but choosing to LiveWell with those chronic conditions is a matter of choice.
Continuing one’s healthspan in a linear fashion with lifespan is a matter of choice. There are a number of ways in which individuals can choose to remain as healthy as possible. They include:
The road along continued healthspan, especially after a diagnosis has been made, may be a challenge. However, the most important idea is to understand “you are not your diagnosis”, any individual has the power to choose how a chronic condition may or may not change their life.
Although the next day may look different than the previous, the option is there to continue living each day in the best ways possible.
In the United States it is common notion that because of the increase in life expectancy there must be greater life through those years. However the key is to, again, ensure healthspan and life expectancy run along a linear pattern together. Having one and not the other is no way to live. I challenge you to create a journey, full of healthy lifestyle choices that will allow your very own healthspan to carry well into the latter years of life.
“The most important thing is this: to be able at any moment to be free to choose a life that makes you happy” – Roy T. Bennett