John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

“Healthcare” may be one of the great oxymorons of our time. Sick care would seem to be a far better descriptor of what’s really taking place.

It’s certainly what’s generally happening in hospitals, and, to a large degree, in nursing facilities. Truth be told, there’s more sick care being delivered in senior living than many in the field would care to admit.

I was thinking about this odd juxtaposition when I stumbled across a study done by Canadian researchers. It concerned, of all things, the subject of optimal aging. The investigators wanted to better understand why some people seem to enjoy excellent health well into old age, and what distinguishes them from their less fortunate peers.

I doubt anyone reading this column will be surprised by what they found.

Turns out it sure helps to be in a high-income bracket. Moreover, those who remain active, are married and happen to be women generally faced better odds. As did individuals who were not obese or cigarette smokers. It’s hardly a surprise that those with no history of sleep, arthritis or heart problems also tended to age more gracefully.

To a varying degree, being on the right side of the ledger in those categories helped inoculate many from the ravages of aging.

“It is remarkable that half of those aged 80 and older maintained this extremely high bar of cognitive, physical and emotional well-being across the three years of the study,” said Mabel Ho, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

“This is wonderful news for older adults and their families who may anticipate that precipitous decline is inevitable for those aged 80 and older,” added Ho, who is the study’s lead author.

In a world where we are constantly reminded to control the controllables, it’s fair to ask what implications these findings might have for senior living communities. Clearly, there is not much operators can do to affect the income levels or previous lifestyle choices of arriving residents.

But what about once they are in your buildings? Do you think that maybe classes that get residents moving might help? How about weight loss classes? Or simply making wellness more central to what you do?

Perhaps if this sector made a bigger commitment to keeping people healthy, it wouldn’t need to spend so much time on what amounts to damage control.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.