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Rate of Preventable Deaths Improving, yet Many Die Needlessly

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It may seem painfully obvious, but the first step in enjoying a long retirement may be to avoid passing away ahead of your time. That’s one reason why our attention was drawn to a pair of reports from the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that said there’s a mix of good news and not so good news when it comes to statistics on preventable deaths in the U.S. The CDC says that during the four years between 2010 and 2014 the rate of preventable deaths from three of the leading health problems in America – cancer, stroke and heart disease – actually declined. But for chronic lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema the death rate showed no change, and for a category called “unintentional injuries” the death rate rose significantly.

Click here to read the more recent CDC report from late last year. We also used this 2014 CDC report in compiling this article for the AgingOptions blog.

According to the CDC, there’s a solid public-health rationale for tracking preventable deaths, which the agency describes as a premature death of someone under age 80 that could have been avoided. “Preventable death estimates are an important public-health tool,” says the CDC report, “that help state and federal officials establish prevention goals, priorities, and strategies.” Armed with these statistics, say the experts, health care providers can offer a targeted range of preventive services to help people live longer and healthier lives – services such as smoking cessation programs, initiatives to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and safety campaigns to help people to avoid unintentional injuries from causes like drug overdoses and falls – tragedies that can definitely impact seniors.

In the CDC press release from late last year, Agency Director Tom Frieden explained one chilling reason why the death rate from unintentional injuries has remained stubbornly high. “Tragically,” he said, “deaths from overdose are increasing because of the opioid epidemic,” referring to the overuse of addictive painkillers that has developed into a national health crisis.  It’s also worth noting, Frieden said, that death rates vary significantly from one state or region to another, suggesting that “many more lives can be saved through use of prevention and treatment available today.” If one state can improve, in other words, so can another.

We went back to the earlier CDC story to investigate the scope of the problem of preventable deaths in the U.S., and what we discovered was shocking. According to the CDC, nearly 900,000 Americans (almost two-thirds of deaths in the country) die prematurely every year from one of the five leading causes of death – yet, based on CDC analysis, between 20 and 40 percent of these deaths could have been prevented.  To arrive at this conclusion the agency analyzed the rate of premature death state by state, then calculated how many lives could have been saved if all states matched the premature death rate of the healthiest states. Here’s what the CDC found:

  • About one-third of deaths from heart disease – representing more than 90,000 lives – could have been prevented
  • 21 percent of premature deaths from cancer could have been avoided, representing more than 84,000 lives
  • Almost 40 percent of deaths from lung disease were classified as preventable by the CDC, prolonging 29,000 lives
  • One-third of deaths from stroke – about 17,000 lives – were considered preventable
  • Nearly 40 percent of premature deaths from unintentional injuries were considered preventable, saving about 37,000 lives.

As the CDC article points out, these numbers can’t necessarily be added together because some people die from multiple conditions. But it does seem safe to estimate that well over 200,000 American lives were ended prematurely by one of these five “killer conditions” – lives that could have been saved with better prevention and care. In the CDC report the agency lists what it calls “modifiable risk factors” that are closely related to each of the five deadliest death, factors over which you and I have a great deal of control.  Heart disease and stroke, for example, are closely linked to smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, poor diet, overweight, and lack of physical activity. Cancer risks can increase through smoking, diet, and other factors. It may be possible to reduce the rates of lung diseases by reducing smoking and cutting one’s exposure to second-hand smoke and other indoor and outdoor air pollutants.

In our view, one of the categories that impacts seniors the most is the death rate from unintentional injuries. Some risk factors related to unintentional injury, such as failure to use a seatbelt or wear a motorcycle helmet, may not apply to seniors as much as to others, but deaths from prescription drug misuse and from an unsafe home environment are a constant concern to the elderly and their families. It’s hard to know how many of the 37,000 lives that could have been saved by cutting the risk of unintentional injuries belong to retirees, but we imagine it’s a significant percentage.

If there’s a big take-away from these two reports it’s this: there are some risk factors we can’t control, but there are several we can control in order to live longer, healthier lives. Here at AgingOptions we not only want to see our clients and seminar guests enter retirement with a well-crafted plan, but we also want to see them enjoy those retirement years for the longest possible amount of time in the best possible health. If you or someone you know is ready to deal with some of the risk factors listed in this article, a good next step could be to contact us and let us refer you to a good geriatric physician in your area who will counsel you on all aspects of your health. (Remember, it’s never wise to start an exercise program or weight loss regimen without first consulting with your medical practitioner.)

As for that “well-crafted plan” for retirement that we just mentioned, at AgingOptions we call that a LifePlan – a uniquely comprehensive retirement strategy in which all the major elements of retirement are interwoven. Your LifePlan combines medical planning with financial, legal, housing and family planning to create a true blueprint for a secure and fruitful retirement. Why not accept our invitation to learn more, without obligation? Invest a few hours and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. You’ll find all the details about upcoming seminars by clicking here, then register online or give us a call.

We want you enjoy a long and healthy retirement – which is why, here at AgingOptions, you’ll often hear us say – “Age on!”

(originally reported at

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