Boomers Doomed to Disability?

Bad Sign for Baby Boomers: Disability on the Rise for Americans in Their 60s

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 12, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 12, 2009 -- 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.

Show Sources


Seeman, T.E. American Journal of Public Health, published online ahead of print, Nov. 12, 2009.

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