Most Older Americans Living Longer and Better

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Thursday, March 27, 2008; 12:00 AM

THURSDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- Older Americans are living longer than ever and enjoying better health and financial security, a new report finds.

Yet there continue to be lingering disparities between racial and ethnic groups.

In 2006, there were an estimated 37 million Americans 65 and older -- 2 percent of the population. By 2030, it's estimated at 71.5 million people will be 65 and older -- almost 20 percent of the population, according to the report,Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being.

"This report comes at a critical time," Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics, said Thursday in a prepared statement. "As the baby boomers age and America's older population grows larger and more diverse, community leaders, policymakers and researchers have an even greater need for reliable data to understand where older Americans stand today and what they may face tomorrow."

The report examined five broad areas of well-being: economics, health status, health risks and behaviors and health care.

Even though life expectancy for Americans continues to increase for those 65 years of age, it is lower than in countries such as Canada, France Japan and Sweden. For example, Japanese women 65 years of age live 3.2 years longer than women in the United States. Among men, the difference is 1.2 years, according to the report.

In terms of overall health, key indicators such as smoking rates, flu and pneumonia vaccinations and screening for breast cancer have improved but have leveled off in recent years.

As for chronic conditions, women reported higher levels of arthritis compared with men. Men reported higher levels of heart disease and cancer. Among African-Americans, there were higher levels of high blood pressure and diabetes compared with whites. Hispanics reported higher levels of diabetes than did non-Hispanic whites.

The number of people 65 and older who are obese increased from 22 percent in 1988-1994 to 31 percent in 2000-2006. At the same time, there was no significant change in the number of older people who engaged in physical activity. In fact, most days Americans 65 and older reported spending half their time watching television. Those 75 and older, however, spent more time reading and relaxing and thinking, compared with people 55 to 64 years old.

In addition, as people aged, they spent less time visiting friends or attending social functions. Socializing declined from 13 percent of those 55 to 64 to 10 percent of those 75 and older. And, time spent devoted to sports, exercising, recreation and travel also declined with age, according to the report.

Older people's ability to obtain, process and understand health information or services -- called health literacy -- declined with age. Thirty-nine percent of people 75 and older had below basic health literacy, compared with 23 percent of people ages 65 to 74, and 13 percent of people 50 to 64.

Escalating health-care costs, particularly for prescription drugs, also affected older Americans: From 1992 to 2004, costs rose from $8,644 to $13,052. In 2004, prescription drugs made up 61 percent of out-of-pocket health costs for older Americans, the report found.


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