Well-being improves for most older people, but not for all, new federal report says

August 09, 2000

Older Americans are living longer and living better than ever before. But many of those age 65 and older face disability, chronic health conditions, or economic stress, according to a new federal indicators report that describes the status of the nation's older population. This is the first in a continuing series planned by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, a consortium of U.S. government agencies working together to improve the quality and usefulness of data on older Americans.

The global population is aging at a rate unprecedented in history. In the U.S., the population age 65 and older is expected to double by 2030. The Forum developed the report, "Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being," to regularly track trends as society and individuals look for ways to address the aging boom. Today's report, which brings together information from more than a dozen national data sources for the first time, will serve as a baseline for future updates.

"Americans age 65 and older are an important and growing segment of our population. While many federal agencies provide data on this diverse population, it is sometimes difficult to understand how this group is faring. For the first time, the federal statistical system has come together to provide a unified picture of the overall health and well-being of older Americans," says Katherine K. Wallman, Chief Statistician, U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

The 128-page report covers 31 key indicators carefully selected by the Forum to portray aspects of the lives of older Americans and their families. The report is divided into five subject areas: population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care. Highlights include:

Population -- The number and proportion of older people in the U.S. population have grown and generally will continue to grow at a very rapid pace. Aging in the 21st century will be characterized by a steep rise in the population age 85 and older and increased racial and ethnic diversity.

Economics -- The economic picture for most older Americans is improving. But there are also significant disparities in income and wealth. Poverty has dropped dramatically, but rates are still very high for some groups. Social Security benefits and pensions have taken on greater importance. Overall, the net worth of older Americans also has increased over time.

Health Status -- Older Americans are living longer and feeling better. An overwhelming majority rate their health as good or excellent. Men and women report comparable levels of well-being. Disability rates are declining as well. But large numbers of older people find their health threatened by memory impairments, depression, chronic conditions, and disability, especially at very advanced ages, which can substantially diminish quality of life.

Health Risks and Behaviors -- Social and behavioral aspects of life can make a difference in health and well-being. Most older people describe themselves as socially active, which may enhance their physical and emotional health. But others report choices and behaviors, such as the failure to engage in physical activity or to keep up with vaccinations, that could interfere with health and independence.

Health Care -- Older people report being generally satisfied with health care quality and access. Average costs have not risen steeply during the 1990s. The cost of health care and use of services is closely associated with age and institutional status, with higher expenditures incurred by the oldest Americans and those living in long-term care facilities.

Beyond the specific indicators, the Forum's report also examines areas where research and data efforts need to be improved. Among the recommendations are extending age reporting categories to more specifically incorporate upper age ranges in federal data collection efforts, improving the way data are collected to measure income and wealth, strengthening measures of disability, and gathering information to understand the reasons for improvements in life expectancy and function.
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The Federal Forum on Aging-Related Statistics was established in 1986 to foster collaboration among federal agencies that produce or use data on the older population. The Forum is made up of nine federal agencies -- the Administration on Aging, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Health Care Financing Administration, the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (Department of Health and Human Services), the Office of Management and Budget, and the Social Security Administration. Other agencies contributing to "Older Americans 2000" are the Bureau of Justice Statistics (Department of Justice), the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (Department of Transportation), and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (Department of Agriculture).

Single printed copies of "Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being" are available from the National Center for Health Statistics, at 301-458-4636 or by sending an e-mail request to nchsquery@cdc.gov. Anyone wishing multiple printed copies of the report should contact Forum Staff Director Kristen Robinson at 301-458-4460 or send an e-mail request to kgr4@cdc.gov.

News media may view the report prior to the embargo date on a special web site sponsored by the Forum. Please call media contacts to obtain more information about access to that website or to get a printed copy of the embargoed report.




NIH/National Institute on Aging

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