American life expectancy has just reached an all-time high—78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Of course, there's more to the story than just one statistic. Other conclusions from the CDC report include:
- Common killers are becoming less deadly: Most of the declines in death rate have been the result of fewer people dying from common conditions such as cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory disease and heart disease. In total, the death rates of eight of the 10 leading causes of death saw a substantial decline.
- Strive for 65: Individuals who make it to 65 are likely to live for nearly two more decades. Sixty-five-year-old women live, on average, for an additional 20.5 years, while men of the same age tend to continue for another 18 years.
- Suicides see an uptick: Suicide occupies the tenth place spot on the list of leading causes of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, unlike the majority of these mortality sources, suicide deaths are on the rise.
The increase in average life expectancy, while undoubtedly positive, does contain an important caveat: A longer life doesn't always mean a good life.
Even though fewer people are dying from them, the debilitating nature of chronic conditions such as Alzheimer's, cancer and cardiovascular disease cannot be overlooked. Both the symptoms and the treatments of many of the ailments facing America's aging population can quickly reduce quality of life to practically nothing.
Coy Cross and his wife, Carol, were faced with a tough decision when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The couple encountered the all-too-common (and nearly impossible to answer) question:
"How much quality of life are you willing to give up to live longer?"
Carol decided to undergo surgery and chemotherapy to treat her cancer, but she always kept the issue of quality in mind. If the treatments began infringing on her life too much, she would cease to receive them.
Coy shares their journey in detail on his blog: Quantity or Quality of Life?
No amount of advanced planning can make these decisions easy, but exploring options with doctors and close family members can help both patients and caregivers gain a clearer perspective of what to expect and how to respond as a disease progresses.
Each family must follow their own end-of-life planning process, but here are a few resources to get you started: