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Baby Boomers are facing more disability

Jenny Decker RN's picture

In a report published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers have announced that baby boomers face a higher rate of disability than previous generations. This was an unexpected finding as the lead researcher, Teresa E. Seeman, PhD and professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine states, “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.”

Obesity appears to be the link to disability as those who were not obese in the study did not have the problems with disability that those with obesity did. However, it is also important to point out that even with this finding, the study never was able to fully explain why the trend towards disability in the baby boomers and perhaps, other generations to follow.

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The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging. Researchers compared two decades of trends where it was thought that people were functioning better in old age than those who had come before them. The cohorts were from the years 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2004. It was found that the oldest participants in the study had better nutrition and better medical treatments than those who were younger. People who were aged 80 and older actually showed improvement in disability rates, especially among women. People in their 70s showed no changes in disability rates.

The disability rates among those in their 60s actually increased. The major factor linking this generation appears to be obesity. Ellen L. Idler, professor of sociology and epidemiology (not associated with the study, but an expert on gerontology) states, “The strain of excess weight on joints, the cardiovascular effects---- definitely. Trends in obesity would lead you to expect more disabilities.”

Researchers state that 1 in 5 people who are in their 60s have some type of disability. This is up from 13% only a few years ago. Now the trend is showing that between 40-70% of those between 60 and 69 have at least one disability. Disabilities affect a person’s ability to perform daily activities such as walking up a flight of stairs, doing household chores, cooking meals, managing finances, or even standing up from an armless chair.

It has been said before. It is being reiterated today. The older population presents a significant problem for the future of health care and the ability to provide for their needs. Idler states, “If we don’t do anything, we’re going to face an older population that is bigger and much more disabled.” Education is part of the answer to the upcoming future that predicts disability. We must work on better nutrition and more exercise. For the baby boomers and other generations, disability is on the increase. We have a responsibility to try and prevent it from occurring to the best of our abilities.