Floss & live longer PDF Print E-mail
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor   
Friday, 08 November 2013 11:07
How long will you live?
Short answer: A lot longer if you floss your teeth, keep your wife happy, and don't smoke.
Bowling Green State University's Dr. Nancy Orel asked audience members at Monday's Optimal Aging seminar a series of pointed questions which involved a little rapid arithmetic to arrive at an answer.
The starting point was the current U.S. average life expectancy figures. Among women that means 81.5 years for Asian-Americans, 79.5 for Caucasians, 77.1 for Latinos and 73.6 for African-Americans. For men, it's 74.5 for Asian-Americans, 72.7 for Caucasians, 69.6 for Latinos and 65.4 for African-Americans.
Now: Pick up your pen and subtract 5 if you have a chronic illness. The most common illness among those 50-plus isn't diabetes, by the way, it's arthritis.
Add one if you're a first-born child, but subtract 1 if your mother was over 35 or under 18 when you were born.
Add 4 years if you're a college graduate, subtract 2 if you are more than 10 percent overweight and subtract 5 if you're more than 30 percent overweight.
If you floss your teeth daily, add a whopping 4 years. Add another 4 if you take daily aspirin.
Subtract 2 if you are sedentary; add 2 if you get annual medical exams.
If you live in a rural area - Bowling Green qualifies - add 1. Subtract 1 if you live in a city.
Add 1 if you are married.
If you are male, divorced and living alone, subtract 9 years; if divorced but not alone, subtract 4; if widowed and alone, subtract 7. For females, subtract 4 if divorced and alone, 2 if divorced and not alone, and 3 if widowed and alone.
If you smoke less than 1 pack a day, subtract 5 years; 1 or 2 packs a day, subtract 7 years; if 2 or more packs, subtract 12 years. If anyone in your household smokes, subtract 4 years.
If you enjoy sex at least once a week add 2 years.
The longevity quiz goes on for another 10 questions or so, but none caused as many murmurs in the room as the one about flossing.
"It's because the mouth has so many capillaries. If we have any type of infection in our mouth, it goes straight to the bloodstream, which goes straight to the heart," Orel explained. "That's why dental work is followed by antibiotics."
The effects of divorce and widowhood were also sobering.
"What they find is, the group with the highest suicide rate is white males over 85 who have lost a spouse," Orel said. "And the majority of them saw a physician within 20 days prior to committing suicide. It's really sad."
Many in the audience were pleasantly surprised to discover they have a realistic chance to live into their 90s or beyond.
"The U.S. population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse... and is getter older," confirmed Orel, associate professor of gerontology and acting dean of the College of Health and Human Services.
In fact, life expectancy has increased by 3 months per year for every year between 1840 and 2011.
In 1900, the average American could expect to live to only 49 years; by 2011 it was up to 78.5.
All this good news about longevity is countered by the reverse side of the coin: The Graying of America means we're about to face a massive care-giving challenge.
"This whole network is fraying," said keynote speaker Dr. David Gobble, who followed Orel to the podium. He said the number of potential caregivers aged 45-65, for each person aged 80 and older, was a 7 to 1 ratio in 2010, but will drop to a 4 to 1 ratio in 2030 and just 3 to 1 in 2050.
Ohio's situation is still more dire: 6.7 caregivers for every person 80-plus in 2010, dropping to 4.0 in 2020 and 3.3 in 2030.
"Every family is going to have fewer and fewer potential caregivers," Gobble said.
The shortage of natural caregivers is being made worse by family instability and aging, considering that the divorce rate doubled for older Baby Boomers between 1990 and 2010, and one in three Boomers are unmarried.
Figure we'll just turn to our children for help?
Only 11.6 percent of women turning 80 were childless in 2010, but that figure will rise to 16.7 percent childless in 2030 and 18.8 percent in 2050. Women's average number of children was 3.1 in 2010 but will fall to 2.0 by 2030.
Among those 80-plus, seven in 10 people have a disability and 55 percent have a severe disability, Gobble said.
At the same time, the 80-plus population will increase 44 percent just between 2030 and 2040.
"You just can't avoid what's happening," Gobble warned.

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