Aging in place is almost always preferable to being forced to move into a long-term care facility. New York City elder law estate planning attorneys work with residents to ensure they are able to stay in their own homes as long as possible. Yet, it is a mistake to simplify the aging process as merely an effort to live on one’s own indefinitely. Research continues to pour out examining the range of lifestyle issues that affect seniors. The studies are important to consider in the broader context of planning to not only live, but thrive, in one’s golden years.
For example, last week MedPage Today profiled a new study on longevity and maintaining an active lifestyle. Published by the BMJ Group (full study here), the researchers found that those who were over 85 years old lived, on average, 4 extra years if they maintained an active lifestyle. Physical activity was found to be the best indicator of longevity when other factors were held constant, like smoking and weight.
Social interactions were also found to be pivotal in longevity. This is one of many reasons why New York elder law attorneys urge nursing home decisions to be based on proximity so that family visits can be frequent. The BMJ study found that those with a rich social network, were married, or had frequent contact with relatives lived a few years longer on average when all other factors were held constant.
A study from earlier this summer mirrored this one in highlighting the dangers of minimal social interaction. That research (found here) was published in the journal Psychology and Aging. It found that chronic loneliness actually produces physical changes in the body which mimic the natural aging process. What that means is that the loneliest seniors literally age faster. In particular, researchers found that the loneliest seniors had cardiovascular deterioration occur faster than non-lonely seniors. The most potent problem was an increase risk of heart disease.
What does this mean for New York elder law and planning?
Long-term care plans should give serious thought to maximizing physical activity and social interaction. While aging in one’s home is often preferable, it may not be the best option if that comes with too much time sitting alone. Perhaps a retirement community is a better option for those who may end up suffering prolonged inactivity and social isolation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but advanced understandings of the aging process and longevity research should factor into all considerations about life plans for your golden years.
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