10 Healthcare Trends for Older Americans

US News

The goals of improved health and financial security are to live longer and, presumably, more fulfilling lives. Increases in longevity have certainly been impressive. Not only has 60 become the new 40, but we're well on our way to the day when 80 becomes the new 60. While the victors in the longevity race have many spoils to enjoy, they also have many aches, pains, and other unpleasant reminders of their continued existence. The government pulls together an impressive array of statistical snapshots in its recent compendium, "Health, 2011," an exhaustive record of the state of the nation's well-being. Here are some of its most compelling findings about the health of an aging America.

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1. Healthcare use. Among people 65 and older, only about 5 percent managed to get through the year without seeing a doctor, going to an emergency room, or having a healthcare professional treat them at home. About 34 percent had one to three such visits, 37 percent had four to nine, and 24 percent had 10 or more healthcare visits. About 16 percent of older Americans had at least one hospital stay in 2010; 5 percent had at least two stays.

2. Life expectancy. Babies will live to average ages of 76 (male) and 80.9 (female), based on 2009 survey data. For those who reach the age of 65, a man can expect to live until 82.6, on average, while a woman will live until she's 85.3. At 75, men will live another 11 years and women will live another 12.9 years. These are averages. Millions of us will live well into our 90s.

3. Causes of death. Nearly 2.5 million Americans died in 2008, including 1.8 million people age 65 and older. Among this older group, the five leading causes of death were heart disease (28 percent), cancer (22 percent), respiratory disease (7 percent), strokes and other blood-vessel issues in the brain (6 percent), and Alzheimer's disease (5 percent). Over time, Alzheimer's will move toward the top of this list.

4. Auto accidents. Death rates from auto accidents continue to drop, due to safer vehicles and, more recently, from people driving less because of high gasoline prices. For people age 65 and older, the death rate in motor-vehicle injuries was 16.8 in 2008, down from 18.6 in 2007 and 21.4 in 2000.

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5. How we feel. Nearly one-fourth of Americans age 65 and older said their health was only poor or fair in 2010. That was comparable to recent years, but an improvement on 2000, when 27 percent felt that way. By contrast, 19 percent of people ages 55 to 64 said their health was only poor or fair, and 13 percent of those ages 45 to 54 felt that way.

6. Chronic health problems. Persistent ailments are a constant companion for many of us as we age. As of 2010, the most recent data year, 59 percent of people 65 and older said they had to limit their activities in some way because of a health problem. That compares with 27 percent for people ages 18 to 64. For those 65 and older, 30 percent said they had suffered from heart disease, 18 percent from cancer, and nearly 9 percent from stroke. Doctors reported that 18 percent of older Americans had diabetes.

7. Fitness. Older men are more active than older women. Among people 65 to 74 and older, 41 percent of men met national aerobic activity guidelines and 21 percent met muscle-strengthening standards. For older women, the percentages were 32 and 16, respectively. Over time, fewer older Americans are meeting aerobic guidelines but more are achieving the strength standards.

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8. Stress. In our stressed-out nation, hypertension is the norm for older people, not the exception. Hypertension affects 64 percent of men ages 65 to 74, and 72 percent of men 75 and older. For women, the rates are even higher--69 percent for those ages 65 to 74, and 81 percent for those 75 and older.

9. Cholesterol. Nearly 49 percent of men ages 65 to 74 had high cholesterol in 2010, as did about 45 percent of men age 75 and up. Rates among women were higher--roughly 53 percent for all women 65 and older. People were included in this category if they had cholesterol readings above 240 or were taking cholesterol-lowering medications. The average cholesterol readings for older Americans have actually declined by several points in recent years.

10. Weight. In the weight Olympics, we are big winners, too. Among people ages 65 to 74, upwards of three-fourths of men and women are overweight. The percentages dip a bit for men age 75 and up, to 73 percent, and decline more noticeably among older women, to 63 percent. About 40 percent of Americans ages 65 to 74 are clinically obese, defined as having body mass indexes above 30. That's up several percentage points from a few years ago.

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