Quality of Life or Frailty – What’s Facing Our Seniors as Centenarians?

Centenarians comprise the fastest growing age group in the US.

Will your senior loved ones be joining their numbers one day? Will you?

Is that something you want?

Many of us wonder how someone can live to be 100 or even older and still be so healthy and sharp minded.

What have they had to eat or drink or not eat or not drink throughout their lifetime? Is it really in their genes or their lifestyle and environment?

Researchers ask this question every day in search of an anti-aging miracle.

We have, in a past article, asked ourselves if we in fact wish to live to be not just 100 but 120 years old.

Life of a Centenarian

Worldwide, the number of centenarians is expected to reach 3.2 million by 2050. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were more than 53,000 people aged 100 or above in the United States in 2010.

A centenarian is, by definition, someone who lives to 100 years old but it’s greater meaning has become synonymous with longevity.

What do you get if you celebrate your 100th birthday? In America, you should expect to get a card of congratulations from the President. In England, you will get a greeting from the Queen. If you live in America and someone informs them, you will also get a mention on the NBC Today Show.

It is highly likely that if you make it to your 100th birthday your parents also lived long lives, as it is considered a genetic trait, though no exact cause has yet to be discovered.

Researchers looked for the reasons certain people are the beneficiaries of such longevity and several ideas for successful aging emerged, including good nutrition incorporating  vitamins A and E (antioxidants), education, non-smoker, physically active, and community or spiritual involvement.

When asked, centenarians add these reasons for their long lives: doing things for others, volunteering, remaining debt free, doing what you love and finding joy in life, laughing often, having lots of friends, getting used to losing it’s a part of life, not staying mad, sleeping, and going with the flow.

That sounds like good advice for all of us, no matter our age!

Frailty May Be Centenarians Demise

New research from London examined a group of approximately 36,000 people, 87% of whom were female, with a mean age of 101 at their death.

In England, those studied were very unlikely to die at home (only 10%) and most were likely to die in a nursing home (61%).

Pneumonia was actually the leading cause of death in this population. Chronic disease among centenarians is not often a cause of death, even though heart disease and cancer were present (9% and 4.5% respectively).

Frailty or functional decline seemed to contribute to the incidence of pneumonia in this age group.

Researchers stressed the importance of initiating more programs to support centenarians’ ability to remain at home and provide them the support they need to stay functional as long as possible.

Frailty Prevention – Can it Be Accomplished at 100?

What exactly is frailty and how do we spot it? Actually frailty is not a medical diagnosis but more a confluence of medical symptoms seen as aging consequences by some. But in actuality, frailty is not a symptom of aging and not all seniors become frail. Chronic disease can complicate functional status leading to frailty.

Geriatricians specializing in aging health have defined it as a person who has three out of five of the following factors.

  1. Unintentional weight loss of greater than 10 pounds in one year
  2. General feeling of exhaustion
  3. Weakness measured by grip strength
  4. Slow walking speed
  5. Low levels of physical activity

They feel that having three of these factors was a good indicator of overall decline in health and could result in death within five years. For aging seniors and especially centenarians, this decline in health includes increased falling, decreased mobility, disability leading to hospitalization and death. Depression, loss of muscle mass, poor nutrition and loss of balance all play a role in frailty.

You can see how a steady decline in health factors can set a 100 year old person up for pneumonia that could be life threatening.

Some aspects of frailty certainly can’t be reversed such as your senior’s age. However, several of these factors can be prevented, improved or even postponed for some time.

  • Encourage and support your senior’s good intake. Eating and drinking well including adequate protein sources to maintain their muscle mass will help keep them strong. Start with good meals but between meal nutritional supplements can be added to help them consume adequate calories and nutrition. If your senior is having difficulty eating enough, you may want to discuss with your doctor a potential short term appetite stimulant. Make every bite count with nutritious foods that are nutrient dense limiting empty calorie foods.
  • Stay physically active, especially participating in balance exercises and strength training endeavors such as yoga and Tai Chi. This is important for maintaining a steady gait and preventing falls. Resistance exercises three times a week will be helpful for aging seniors.
  • Stay engaged. Continue to seek the company of others, get out in the community, have conversations with people, and stimulate your brain. This also includes getting active in new technology such as social media which will allow your seniors to converse with the wider world.
  • Get regular checkups and health prevention screenings. Ask the doctor for interventions to limit your senior’s pain. Arthritis and other sources of pain can lead to immobility and a functional decline. Treating and overcoming pain will help keep your senior mobile. There are many ways to treat pain both non-pharmaceutically and pharmaceutically.
  • Get your senior evaluated using the Geriatric Depression scale to find out if they are having feelings of depression, which could lead to isolation. Depression is becoming all too common in seniors and is treatable.
  • Have your senior get her/himself checked for vascular disease. Heart disease and blocked arteries can lead to frailty and immobility. There may be non-invasive treatments or other medical options to reduce the effects of heart disease as your senior ages.
  • Have your senior’s doctor review the list of medications. Are they all still needed and are they possibly contributing to some of the frailty? Can they be reduced or eliminated?

Family Caregivers Have a Role

As a family caregiver, we want our senior loved ones to be healthy and active for years to come. You can help them by encouraging them to make some small changes and keeping them engaged.

Staying connected to family and friends, spending time in meaningful activities and facing medical challenges head on will help them keep quality of life in their years.

Whether our senior loved ones live to be 100 or not, we want them to be as healthy and functional as possible with the highest quality of life achievable to enjoy every moment for as long as we can!