The Physical Frailty Myth

Just this morning I read a column by Suze Orman (the financial guru and author of Courage to be Rich, etc.).  Someone asked about whether it was worthwhile to consider long term care insurance.  She said it was and suggested the earlier the better due to premiums being lower with lower age.  I usually agree with her but this time think she is way off base.   First of all statistics show that less than 7% of adults over 65 require nursing home care….7%.  Those are pretty good odds for the insurance company!   Secondly, the leading cause of nursing home admission is physical frailty which is also the most preventable and in many cases even reversible.   I’ve talked before about the research published in 1994 by Maria Fiatarone at Tufts University in Boston: 100 nursing home residents aged 72-98, with multiple chronic conditions (heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, etc.) who strength trained for 10 weeks. Muscle strength improved by 113% along with increases in walking speed, stair climbing and spontaneous physical activity. People who were in wheelchairs were able to walk with walkers, walkers were traded for canes, etc.  In short, this study and many others have proven, without question, that frailty can be prevented and even reversed.

So why do people continue to believe the myth that physical frailty is a normal consequence of aging?  A big part of it is negative perceptions and expectations of aging.  Another is lack of action on the part of individuals, families and the healthcare industry.  Once someone experiences a health incident the quick downhill slide into frailty is very common. But it is totally unnecessary with an attitude adjustment and ACTION.  The money spent on LTC insurance premiums would be much better spent on prevention; a gym membership and/or a personal trainer, massage therapy, social engagement, travel, etc.. All the things that contribute to living a fully engaged life through the full lifespan.   

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