Researchers urge new attitude toward 'normal aging'

There is not one proven path to healthy aging. What works for one person may not be best for another, and living an active lifestyle with a chronic condition is no longer unusual. With such a wide range of expectations when it comes to senior living, a team of experts from the University of Alberta recently suggested a new approach to thinking about the aging process. 

Among those leading the charge is Hannah O'Rourke, a doctoral student at the school. She pointed to the fact that the concept of normal aging typically involves staying active and eating healthy. While both are important, such an approach doesn't address the fact that many seniors are living with a chronic condition such as diabetes, arthritis or COPD. She says that recognizing these issues and modifying how the health community responds to growing older can have a significant impact.

"Cures for chronic illnesses are not always around the corner, and health-care teams have patients to care for now," O'Rourke said. "We need to find ways to support older adults with chronic disease to live well according to their own definitions of health and normality."

Rethinking how society views normal or successful aging is especially important given the number of seniors managing multiple chronic conditions. In fact, a recent analysis from the American Hospital Association revealed just how common such medical problems are. In 2009 and 2010, an estimated 45 percent of the senior population was managing two or more chronic conditions - a significant increase compared to just 10 years prior. Between 1999 and 2000, about 37 percent of the senior population faced similar health problems.