Dementia occurs when nerve cells in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as having two or more core functions that are impaired, including memory, language skills, visual perception, and the ability to focus and pay attention. Cognitive skills, such as the ability to reason and solve problems, may also be impaired.
How long each individual lives is determined by many factors, says Qi Sun, MD, a doctor of science and an associate professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He explains that life expectancy is influenced by genes, environment, and lifestyle choices: “We can look at how the life span has increased over the last 100 years and see that it’s modifiable,” he says.
Making healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking and losing weight, can help you avoid senior health risks, though you also need to be physically active and eat a healthy diet. Including a geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in the health concerns of aging, on your senior healthcare team can help you learn how to live better with any chronic diseases.
It's clear that the US is an aging population. However, aging is different now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Today, there are more people living longer than at any other time in history. In fact, boomers will number 78 million by 2030. "This generation, associated with social change including the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s, has another important cause “staying healthy,” says soon-to-be 65-year-old Arthur Hayward, MD, a geriatrician and clinical lead physician for Kaiser Permanente. "We need to become activists in promoting healthful behaviors and try our best to remain active and healthy the rest of our lives."