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The modern world saw a surge in the number of older adults, as life expectancy has continued to increase, and it has prompted many researchers to raise the question regarding the quality of life and its association with higher longevity. The quality of life among the oldest old is of interest because reaching that age draws a lot of attention as to the intricate complexities associated with attaining longevity. In the recent years, social gerontologists have been fascinated concerning successful aging, which may have been influenced by aging of the baby boomers related to the post-World War II period (Cherry et al. 2016). The estimates of the population of the older generation show that in the United States, the segment of the persons aged 65 years and older by 2060 will reach 98 million, a figure that is twice as much as the statistics of 2013 (Cherry et al. 2016). It is also provided that the individuals aged 85 and older commonly referred to as the oldest old reflect the significant part of the fastest growing population (Cherry et al. 2016). Thus, it is important to determine those factors that contribute to getting to that age, the role of medical breakthroughs in active life expectancy, as well as the peculiarities of environmental, behavioral and genetic factors that affect the attainment of the oldest age group.
Factors that Contribute to Becoming an Oldest Old
As it has been indicated, the oldest-old are the fastest growing segment of the aging population, and it shows positivity regarding the improvement in the quality of life. One may find quite a lot of literature on successful aging because it is considered an attractive concept among some scholars. However, there is no agreeable definition or measurement of the concept despite its intuitive appeal. One group of researchers state that successful aging is dependent on positive adaptations within an individual’s life course (Cherry et al. 2013). Others have posited that psychological factors including independence, growth and engagement with life, are a prerequisite for successful aging (Cherry et al. 2013). Additionally, there are those who suggest that both physical and cognitive function are key because they are the tenets of independent living, and the absence of either one would raise serious implications (Cherry et al. 2013). Finally, some scholars assert that health and wellbeing as a link to social engagement cannot be ignored (Cherry et al. 2013). The only agreeable fact is that successful aging even among the oldest old is a multidimensional construct, though some significant factors can still be illustrated.
In the study aimed at investigating the perceptions of longevity and successful aging among different older adults age cohorts, three major themes appear, namely the maintenance of physical, mental and relational well-being, along with leading healthy and faithful life (Cherry et al. 2013). The responses given specifically by those respondents within the oldest old cohort revealed that for the first theme, much focus was not given to social relations with family and close friends but the main emphasize was placed on the peace of mind and not harboring anger indicating more solitary and personal responses (Cherry et al. 2013). Concerning the second theme that addressed adopting a healthy lifestyle, the oldest old concentrated on the issues associated with avoiding the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs (Cherry et al. 2013). The response was attributed to the fact that individuals of that age group had observed over time the adverse effects caused by smoking, alcohol and drugs (Cherry et al. 2013). Finally, with respect to the third theme of living a faithful life, the oldest old exemplified the need to assert one's faith in God and frequently resist temptation (Cherry et al. 2013). It was discovered that the oldest old integrated their faith in God with the avoidance of substance abuse offering a link to faith and promotion of healthy lifestyles (Cherry et al. 2013). Though there might be biases against the factors mentioned in the study that lead to reaching the oldest old age, the responses revolve around those factors provided by different scholars. Additionally, the replies portray a certain degree of validity because they are addressed from a personalistic view in regards to longevity.
Role of Medical Breakthroughs in Changes in Active Life Expectancy
The increase in life expectancy is based on several factors, but of interest is the connection it has with medical breakthroughs of the previous centuries. It has been noted that one of the highest achievements of humankind is the rise of life expectancy (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). One of the factors that contribute to the great attainment is the improvements in healthcare. In the 1900s life expectancy in Europe was around 45 years, but in the recent decades, it has exceeded 75 years (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). In the 20th century, life expectancy started to show positive trends because of the enhancement in sanitation, hygiene, and better nutrition even before any effective treatment of immunization was developed (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). Moreover, there were medical breakthroughs that induced deeper understanding of contagion and infections regarding sanitation and hygiene, which lead to the eradication of typhoid and cholera that prolonged life (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). In the second part of the 20th century, medical advances such as development of vaccinations and antibiotics largely increased life expectancy, but non-communicable diseases still pose a threat as the main causes of mortality. However, the end of the 20th century witnessed great awareness of pathophysiology, and major innovations contributed to the management of non-communicable diseases (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). Besides, medical science is progressing even in the 21st century where the biochemical and physiological basis of ailments is well understood coupled with the development in the pharmaceutical industry leading to the eradication of numerous noncontagious diseases (Lunenfeld and Stratton 2013). Many of the existing non-communicable diseases have no cure, but the advancements in their control have been elaborated over long periods and have improved active life expectancy as a consequence.
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Environmental, Behavioral and Genetic Factors Contributing to Being the Oldest Old
It is observable that issues connected with longevity are widely varied and complex. Therefore, some researchers have studied the influence of the environment, behavior, and genetics on the attainment of longevity. As it was suggested before, the factors that help individuals reach the oldest old age are of interest, thus certain scholars focus on heritability. The researchers that have concentrated on heritability in the estimation of longevity claim that close to 30% of the phenotypic variation linked with longevity is attributable to genetic factors (Govindaraju, Atzmon and Barzilai 2015). Further, other factors include environmental as well as epigenetic ones not limited to behaviors (Govindaraju et al. 2015). It is true that people have different reactions to their current environment and those, which they construct for themselves to enhance their survival and reproduction. Similarly, individuals conduct themselves differently at all levels of human diversity and choose various lifestyles, which are relatable to their behaviors, as they develop at every stage (Govindaraju et al. 2015). Among the oldest old, genetic factors held accountable for longevity prove that particular genotypes provide for the attainment of old age.
Although there is limited research, one may state that reaching the age of the oldest old is influenced by genomic integrity. Additionally, the oldest old are found to have genomic stability due to the low level of chromosomal aberrations that influences their attainment of the old age (Govindaraju et al. 2015). Regarding environmental factors, the difference lies in the fact that the density of the oldest old in most parts of the world is rather high (Govindaraju et al. 2015). The regions share similar environments as well as lifestyles, and are referred to as “blue zones” whereby the validity of those factors has been accurately determined (Govindaraju et al. 2015). Concerning behavior, the kind of lifestyle considerably affects longevity (Govindaraju et al. 2015). The choices of the oldest old such as eating healthy, living a stress-free and active life, along with giving much preference to socialization and community bonding actively assist in reaching their advanced age (Govindaraju et al. 2015). Thus, differences may be relatable to the environmental, behavioral and genetic factors impacting longevity, which are complex but all of them contribute to reaching the oldest old age.
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The modern world faces an unprecedented rise in its aging population. The increase of life expectancy has additionally been credited as one of the greatest achievement of humankind. Considerable focus has been placed on diverse fields of the research, namely the phenomenon of attainment of an advanced age, which has induced several approaches on how to tackle the issue. It is evident that the attainment of an advanced age, specifically that of the oldest old is multidimensional and in the same manner complex. Many scholars stated that numerous factors determine whether an individual becomes an oldest old, connected the contributions of medical advancements to the trait as well as cited differences in the environmental, behavioral and genetic factors with the aim of addressing the phenomenon. Therefore, one may conclude that the matter of becoming an oldest old is multifaceted and cannot be approached from one angle thereby requiring continuous efforts through research to gain the understanding.