Disabilities Sidelining Middle-Age Adults
More Baby Boomers Reporting Mobility Problems, Study Finds
April 9, 2010 -- Baby boomers are increasingly reporting mobility-related
problems, such as climbing stairs, stooping down, and getting out of bed, new
The finding, an omen for the future of health care costs, comes from
1997-2007 data from the National Health Interview Survey, in which more than
18,000 people aged 50-64 were asked about any mobility problems.
These problems included stooping, bending, or kneeling, climbing 10 stairs,
standing or sitting for two hours, walking a quarter mile, lifting and carrying
objects weighing 10 pounds, grasping small items, pushing or pulling a large
object, and reaching overhead.
The researchers say more than 40% of people in that age group reported they
had trouble with at least one of the physical functions, and that many said
they had problems doing two or more. Difficulty in four specific functions --
stooping, standing two hours, walking a quarter mile, and climbing 10 steps
without resting -- significantly increased over the 11-year period studied.
Also, they noted a significant increase in the number of people who
reported needing help with personal care activities, such as getting around
inside their homes and getting into or out of a bed or chair.
“Over the same period, there also was a significant increase in the reports
of use of special equipment,” such as a cane, wheelchair, special bed, or
telephone, the authors write.
The study is published in the April edition of the journal Health
Arthritis, Diabetes Contribute to Disability
Arthritis or rheumatism was the most common condition associated with
difficulty with a physical function. Other common conditions included
neurologic problems, back or neck conditions, bone and joint injuries, lung
problems, depression, and anxiety.
The study has “important implications for future health spending, demand for
health care workers, and prospects for continued labor-force participation, and
access to health insurance through employers,” the authors write.
The researchers say the study “also highlights a prominent and growing role
for diabetes as a cause of disability” among people 50 to 64.
In contrast to the disability increase found in baby boomers, the
researchers, from the RAND Corp. think tank and the University of Michigan,
reported a decline in disability problems among Americans 65 and over.
The researchers say the reason for the increase in mobility problems among
boomers is not clear, but that many reporting such difficulties also said they
had health problems that began when they were in their 30s and 40s.
“Although the overall rate of needing help with personal care among this
group remains very low -- less than 2% -- this rise in disability is reason for
concern,” Linda Martin, PhD, the study’s lead author and a senior fellow at
RAND, says in a news release. “It does not bode well for future trends for the
65 and older population, plus there are substantial personal and societal costs
of carrying for people of any age who need help.”