GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — People are always asking Freda Goldberg what the secret is to living a long life.
The grand secret? Absolutely nothing, says the 100-year-old Goldberg. “I didn’t do anything special,” she said, laughing. “I was a big veggie eater. I didn’t eat a lot of sweets, but I lived sensibly.”
Goldberg is among a now-smaller percentage of Americans who are beating the odds of dying young from some top causes of death, such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
A report last month stated life expectancy among Americans has decreased.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced in December that life expectancy for the U.S. population decreased, for the first time since 1993, to 78.8 years.
“People nowadays eat so much processed foods. They’re living very stressed lives,” said Goldberg, a resident at Seashore Gardens Living Center in Galloway Township.
An explanation for the change pointed to a rise in death rates in eight out of the 10 leading causes of death in 2015. The highest increases in death rates were found in unintentional injuries, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
The latter saw a death rate increase of more than 15 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Experts said they aren’t surprised.
“We’re seeing more of those numbers because of the trajectory that we’ve predicted all along,” said Krista McKay, director of programs and services at the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter. “There are no known ways to stop progression, there’s no current cure. It’s expected that numbers will continue to rise.”
The Alzheimer’s Association predicts about 170,000 people in New Jersey will be living with the disease this year. That number is expected to jump to 210,000 people in 2025, according to the association.
McKay said the fight is to now get more awareness and education for an aging population, especially one as large as the baby boomers. She and other Alzheimer’s disease advocates continuously push for funding so that more research and trials can be done to try and find treatments and, one day, a cure.
“Funding for research is so needed to get to a place where we’re identifying ways to stop it or thwart its progression,” she said. “Look at 20 years ago, when you didn’t want to even say the ‘C’ word. Now we’re at a place where we can look at cancer diagnosis with hope and encouragement.”
Cancer was the only leading cause of death in the United States that showed a decreased death rate between 2014 and 2015, according to the report. It went down by 1.7 percent, which is a couple thousand people.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among Americans, and it too saw a slight increase in death rates.
Dr. Sanjay Shetty, cardiologist at AtlantiCare Physician Group-Cardiology and division chair of cardiology at The Heart Institute at AtlantiCare Regional Medical School, is always busy. More than 85 million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
And it’s not just an older population at risk for things like heart attacks, high blood pressure and stress cardiomyopathy.
“We’re seeing more heart disease than ever before,” Shetty said. “We’re seeing more stress in general at work, in the environment and around in our general lives as they get busier. We see it in a lot of young people now as well as older.”
It’s inevitable that heart disease, as well as several other leading causes of death, will become more prevalent as people, collectively, live longer due to medical advancements, as obesity and diabetes rates grow and people lack the health insurance to get quality preventative cardiovascular care.
The focus now, Shetty said, should be in screenings, education and prevention treatment, especially for at-risk populations.
Goldberg, who does crossword puzzles every week in the morning with a friend at Seashore, didn’t encounter some of the diseases that have taken away her parents, siblings and friends.
Surprised to live this long, because she was “frail, skinny as a rail and caught everything that was going around at the time,” she said she still plans on marking her 101st birthday next Dec. 13, with little fanfare.
“My mother always taught me to treat every day just as a regular day,” she said. “As far as your health, you’ve just got to do whatever you’ve got to do.”