Seniors’ disabilities fell during 1990s

Friday, January 31, 2003

CHICAGO - Although medical researchers aren’t sure why, the prevalence of disability among the nation’s senior population declined significantly during the 1990s.

These findings, published in the Dec. 25 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, fly in the face of conflicting lifestyle factors in the United States.

Obesity and diabetes are on the rise. Exercise levels among seniors, according to experts, have not risen appreciably. The decline in cigarette smoking, according to one study published last year, accounts for just some of the decline but not all of it.

One factor credited for health gains by seniors is education. Seniors with a high school education or better were far more likely to steer clear of disability than seniors without a high school degree.

The average annual rate of decline in disability for seniors aged 65-70 ranged from –1.5% to – 0.92%.

“A decline in any disability of 1.5% per year would ensure the long-term solvency of the Medicare and Social Security programs,” James F. Fries, M.D., wrote in the same issue of JAMA.

The JAMA findings are based on a systematic review of 800 articles published between 1990 and 2002, and analysis of 16 reports based on eight surveys. HME