Older U.S. residents are living longer, healthier lives with fewer disabilities, according to a report released on Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the New York Times reports (Lyman, New York Times, 3/10). For the study, titled "65+ in the United States: 2005," researchers from the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging compiled population data from Census surveys and other federal sources, including CDC, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Medicare claims (Bor et. al, Baltimore Sun, 3/10). The researchers found that the percentage of people over age 65 who had a disability that the report described as "a substantial limitation in major life activity" decreased from 26.2% in 1982 to 19.7% in 1999, and there "were signs the trend would continue," the Times reports. The study, which partially attributed improved health to higher education levels, said, "The future older population is likely to be better educated than the current older population, especially when baby boomers start reaching age 65. Their increased levels of education may accompany better health" (New York Times, 3/10). In addition, researchers expect the population of U.S. residents over age 65 to increase to 72 million by 2030 from about 36 million in 2000, and the population over 85 is expected to double to 9.6 million during the same time period (Baltimore Sun, 3/10). According to the projections, nearly one in five U.S. residents will be 65 or older by 2030, compared with 12% today (Herrmann, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10).

Longer Life Expectancy
U.S. life expectancy reached an all-time high of 77 years in 2000. However, fewer disabilities and longer lives "don't eliminate seniors' need for medical services ... including replacement hips and blood pressure drugs" that "are reducing the percentage of disabled seniors," the Baltimore Sun reports. According to the report, about 65% of those over age 75 visit hospital emergency departments at least four times a year, while about a quarter had 10 or more visits per year and another quarter visited an ED once (Baltimore Sun, 3/10). The study also finds that more middle-aged U.S. residents will face the responsibility of caring for older family members as they age and their health deteriorates. Researchers projected that the "parent-support ratio" will triple between 1970 and 2030, increasing from 6.7 older people per 100 people between ages 50 and 64 to 16 older people for every 100 middle-aged people. The parent-support ratio is expected to increase to 30.4 older people per 100 middle-aged people by 2050 (Sturrock, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10). Additional findings from the study include the following:
For every dollar spent on health care for U.S. seniors, 65 cents is funded by Medicare and Medicaid, 19 cents comes from patient out-of-pocket spending and 12 cents is paid by private insurance (Baltimore Sun, 3/10);

U.S. residents over age 85 have become the nation's fastest-growing age group, accounting for about 1% of the population, compared with about 0.1% in 1900 (New York Times, 3/10);

About 80% of seniors have at least one chronic illness and about 50% have at least two (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10); and

Obesity rates among seniors are increasing, and about 33% of senior men and 39% of senior women are obese (Chicago Sun-Times, 3/10).

Richard Suzman, associate director of behavioral research at NIA, cautioned that rising obesity rates could reverse the health improvements. He said, "There's a dark cloud out there. Some have estimated that the increase in obesity could neutralize the positive trends in the future. It's likely to have more of an impact on disability than on life expectancy." Federal health officials also warned that an aging population will increase the number of patients with Alzheimer's disease, which costs the country about $100 billion annually (Baltimore Sun, 3/10). Nicholas de Lorenzo, California director for the National Council on Aging, said, "What we're seeing nationwide is, yes, people are living longer, and they're healthier. But they're unprepared for their long retirements. They don't anticipate the cost of maintaining a good quality of life after retirement" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/10). Barry Bosworth, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Medicare will face budgetary issues because "people are living longer but not working longer" (Baltimore Sun, 3/10).

Baby Boomers' Impact Questioned
Richard Hodes, director of NIA, said the impact of aging baby boomers on Medicare and the government might not be as large as previously thought (New York Times, 3/10). He said, "Older Americans, when compared to older Americans even 20 years ago, are showing substantially less disability, and that benefit applies to men and to women. All of this speaks to an improved quality of life." Victoria Velkoff, chief of the Aging Studies Branch of the Census Bureau, said, "The older population of tomorrow will look different than today's older population" (Dart, Cox/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/10). Hodes said, "This report tells us that we have made a lot of progress in improving the health and well-being of older Americans, but there is much left to do." Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon said, "The aging of our society will have profound consequences for our future, and in fact it is not a very distant future" (Ohlemacher, AP/Miami Herald, 3/9).

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