A team of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) analyzed federal disability data from the 1988 and 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.
They were looking for changes in disability trends among older adults in the United States.
Specifically, they were looking at people within the “Baby Boomer” generation, or that large group of people born during the post-World War II baby boom—that is, those born between 1946 and 1964.
The researchers concentrated on four areas for their study: (1) basic daily living activities (such as dressing), (2) instrumental activities (such as managing money), (3) functional limitations (ability to get up from a kneeling position), and (4) mobility (such as walking and climbing stairs).
The researchers found between 1988 and 1990, people in their 60s increased their percentage of disability between 40% and 70% within three of the four areas of concentration.
Some of the findings of people analyzed between 1988 and 1990 are:
• 70% of Baby Boomers are more likely to have difficulty walking between rooms, getting in and out of bed, and/or eating and dressing.
• 70% of Baby Boomers are more likely to have difficulty doing household chores, preparing daily meals, and/or managing their finances.
• 50% of Baby Boomers more likely to have difficulty walking one-quarter of a mile and/or walking up ten steps without stopping.
• 40% of Baby Boomers more likely to have difficulty stooping, crouching, or kneeling; lifting or carrying ten pounds; and/or standing from an armless chair.
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The increase in percentage of disabilities was especially dramatic in people who were overweight and in people in racial categories other than Caucasian.
For people in their 70s, over this same period, the study did not find any appreciable change in disabilities within the four areas of concentration.
And, for people in their 80s, the study authors actually found a decrease in disability in functional limitations.
The researchers commented that this increasing trend in disabilities within the large group of Baby Boomers in the United States could spell disaster to the country’s already troubled health-care system.
Dr. Teresa Seeman, a professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health, is the lead author of the study.
Dr. Seeman stated, "Increases in disability in that group are concerning because it's a big group. These may be people who have longer histories of being overweight, and we may be seeing the consequences of that. We're not sure why these disabilities are going up. But if this trend continues, it could have a major impact on [the nation], due to the resources that will have to be devoted to those people." [U.S. News and World Report: “Baby Boomers May Prove More Disabled Than Their Elders” ]
The summary of their results will be published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).
For additional information on the UCLA study, please read the 11/12/2009 WebMD article “Boomers Doomed to Disability?”