Seniors: Longer Lives, Better Health

Fewer Older Americans Are Disabled or Live in Poverty

From the WebMD Archives

March 10, 2006 -- Older adults are growing in number and defying stereotypes, a government report shows.

The U.S. Census Bureau report, "65+ in the United States: 2005," was commissioned by the National Institute on Aging. Among the findings:

  • By 2030, one in five people in the U.S. will be at least 65 years old.
  • People in the U.S. are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
  • Fewer seniors are disabled, dying of heart disease, or living in poverty.

However, the report doesn't paint a totally rosy picture of aging. It shows that many seniors face disabilities, and most have at least one chronic health problem -- such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and respiratory disorders -- and half have two chronic conditions.

Spotlight on Seniors

Life expectancy is much greater than a century ago.

In 1900, life expectancy at birth was about 47 years -- what we now call "middle age." In 2000, life expectancy at birth was nearly 77 years.

In general, women still outlive men and whites outlive minorities. But those gaps are narrowing, the report states.

Here are some of the report's health highlights:

  • Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the three leading causes of death for seniors.
  • Heart disease deaths are dropping for people aged 65 and older but still remain high.
  • About 80% of seniors have at least one chronic condition and 50% have two.
  • Disability has been declining among seniors, dropping from 26% in 1982 to 23% in 1994 to 20% in 1999.
  • About 14 million seniors not living in institutions reported some type of disability in the 2000 U.S. census.

Obesity on the Rise

Obesity has become more common for older adults, just like all other age groups, the report shows.

Nearly a quarter of men aged 65-74 were obese in 1988-1994. By 1999-2000, more than a third of men in that age group were obese.

For women of the same age, obesity rose from about 27% to nearly 39% during the same period. Adults aged 75 and older were less likely to be obese.

Other findings from the report include:

  • People aged 85 and older are the fastest-growing age group in the U.S.
  • People aged 65 and older have the second-highest death rate from car accidents, following youths aged 15-24.
  • Poverty dropped from 35% of seniors in 1959 to 10% in 2003.
  • Divorce and ethnic diversity have become more common among seniors.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 10, 2006


SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, "65+ in the United States: 2005." News release, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.
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