The health and daily function of elderly U.S. residents has improved as the incidence of chronic disability has "dropped dramatically," according to a study released Tuesday by the National Institute on Aging, the Washington Times reports. The results were based on an analysis of the National Long-Term Care Survey, a periodic survey of about 20,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The study found that the percentage of individuals over age 65 who have heart disease, arthritis, hypertension or other chronic health conditions dropped from 27% in 1982 to 19% last year. During the same time, the percentage of seniors in nursing homes dropped from 8% to 4%, while the percentage of seniors considered "non-disabled" increased from 73% to 81% (Harper, Washington Times, 12/6). Lead researcher Kenneth Manton of Duke University attributed improved health among seniors to better medications for treating chronic diseases and improved living conditions for older people. "Older Americans are more likely to return to independence after a medical event, like a hip fracture," or to live an independent life while managing a chronic illness, he said (Blinkhorn, CQ HealthBeat, 12/5). If the trend continues, Medicare is projected save about $73 billion over three years, according to the study. NIA director Richard Hodes said, "This continuing decline in disability among older people is one of the most encouraging and important trends of the aging population." Richard Sulzman, director of NIA's Behavioral Research Program, said, "The challenge now is to see how this trend can be maintained and accelerated, especially in the face of increasing obesity. Doing so over the next several decades will significantly lessen the societal impact of the aging baby boom generation" (Washington Times, 12/6).

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