Boomers Doomed to Disability?

Baby boomers are entering their 60s just in time for a new
trend: disability.

One in five 60-somethings need help with basic daily activities -- up from
13% just a decade ago. Various disabilities are up 40% to 70% in 60- to
69-year-olds, UCLA researcher Teresa E. Seeman, PhD, and colleagues find.

Seeman's team analyzed federal disability data collected from people over
age 60 in 1988-1994 and in 1999-2004. The most recent data therefore captures
only a few of those born during the baby boom of 1946-1964.

But the trends bode ill for boomers.

"Our results have significant and sobering implications," Seeman and
colleagues say. "To the extent that persons currently aged 60 to 69 years are
harbingers of likely disability trends for the massive baby-boomer generation,
the health care and assistance needs of disabled older Americans could, in the
not so distant future, impose heavy burdens on families and society."

Compared with those surveyed in 1988-1994, 60-somethings surveyed in
1999-2004 were:

  • 70% more likely to have difficulty walking from room to room,
    getting in and out of bed, and/or eating and dressing.

  • 70% more likely to have difficulty doing chores, preparing meals, and/or
    managing money

  • 50% more likely to have difficulty walking a quarter mile and/or walking up
    10 steps without rest

  • 40% more likely to have difficulty stooping, crouching, or kneeling;
    lifting or carrying 10 pounds; and/or standing from an armless chair.

Not surprisingly, given the ongoing obesity epidemic, people who
entered their 60s from 1999 to 2004 were much more likely to be obese, to have
a too-large waist size, and to get less exercise than those who turned 60
from 1988-1994.

Disability was significantly more likely among obese or overweight
60-somethings and among African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. But neither
health status, health behavior, race, or ethnicity -- taken separately or
together -- fully explained the trend toward more disability.

Seeman and colleagues report their findings in the American Journal of
Public Health
, published online ahead of print on Nov. 12.

By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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