More Older Women Living With 'Moderate' Disability
Trend a reversal from the 1980s, researchers say
By Amy Norton
THURSDAY, March 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Back in the 1980s, older U.S. women typically lived more years free of disabilities than their male peers did, but a new study shows that pattern appears to be changing.
For older men, the news is largely positive, researchers report: They're not only living longer, but with fewer disabilities.
For women, the picture is different: They've made smaller gains than men have and, in some respects, they've taken a step backward.
Specifically, older U.S. women were more likely to be living with moderate disabilities in 2011, compared with 2004 -- a reversal in the improvement seen since 1982.
The study defined moderate disabilities as problems with daily activities such as shopping, doing household chores or managing money. For men, the prevalence of those issues dropped between 1982 and 2004, then stayed largely unchanged.
Older women, on the other hand, saw their prevalence of moderate disability decline from almost 13 percent in 1982, to about 10 percent in 2004. But by 2011, that figure had risen to 14 percent, the investigators found.
The reasons for the trends are not clear, said study author Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, in Ann Arbor.
On average, she said, women are at an economic disadvantage compared with men, and that could be one factor. "The next step is to better understand why this is happening," Freedman said.
Another expert had a different theory.
Women's higher rate of obesity in more recent decades could also be playing a role, said Barbara Resnick, chair of gerontology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. She is also a former president of the American Geriatrics Society.
U.S. men are heavier than they used to be, too. But, Resnick said, they also typically have more muscle mass and strength than women do, so they may be able to preserve more of their physical function as they grow older.
The findings are based on information from national health surveys of Americans aged 65 and up, conducted in 1982, 2004 and 2011.