80% of Older Adults Have Chronic Ills

CDC Report Includes Tips on Preventing Those Health Problems

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 08, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

March 8, 2007 -- Nearly 80% of Americans aged 65 or older have at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or depression -- and half have at least two chronic conditions.

That's according to a new report from the CDC and the Merck Company Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the drug company Merck. Merck is a WebMD sponsor.

The report, called "The State of Aging and Health in America 2007," covers 15 topics including disability, mental distress, obesity, smoking, oral health, hip fractures, vaccinations, exercise, and diet.

Among the findings:

  • One in five people aged 65 and older is obese.
  • Nearly one in three (32%) is sedentary (no physical activity in the past month).
  • Only 30% eat at least five fruits and vegetables daily.
  • More than 20% don't have any of their own teeth.
  • 34% are disabled.
  • More than a third haven't been screened for colorectal cancer.
  • A quarter of women aged 65 and older haven't had a mammogram in the last two years.
  • About 6% report mental distress 14 or more days in the past month.

The data, gathered during 2003 and 2004, are the CDC's most current snapshot of aging in America.

Room for Improvement

The report shows that most states have met federal goals for 2010 on mammograms, colorectal cancer screening, cholesterol screening, and smoking.

However, most states fall short of federal goals for 2010 on physical activity, flu and pneumonia vaccination, fruit and vegetable intake, obesity, and oral health.

"We're doing good in some areas, and in a lot of other areas we really need to step up," the CDC's Lynda Anderson, PhD, tells WebMD.

Anderson directs the CDC's Healthy Aging Program. She was among the experts who worked on the report.

"Our main message is really that Americans of all ages can reduce their risk of developing chronic illnesses, as well as preventing disabilities," Anderson says.

Healthy Aging Tips

The report includes these recommendations for people aged 65 and older:

  • Be physically active.
  • Take care of your oral health.
  • Stay up to date with your vaccinations.
  • Get screened for colorectal cancer.
  • Learn how to prevent falls.
  • Talk to your family and doctor about your wishes for end-of-life care.

Not smoking, eating at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and getting other medical tests and checkups are also recommended.

If you haven't done those things in years (or ever), Anderson has a message for you. "It's never too late to start," she says.

A healthy lifestyle may help keep your brain sharp as you age, Anderson notes. "The things that are good for your heart are probably also good for your brain," she says.

"The protective factors are generally the same: getting physical activity, not smoking, having a good diet," she says. "While those sound like common messages, our society is really not engaging in them. And so if we're really going to make a difference, we really do need to start making some inroads."

Anderson also urges people to become proactive in their health and to use their Medicare benefits for preventive services.

Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you've been inactive for a while.

Show Sources

SOURCES: CDC and Merck Company Foundation: "The State of Aging and Health in America 2007." Lynda Anderson, PhD, director, Healthy Aging Program, CDC.

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