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Baby Boomers May Prove More Disabled Than Their Elders

Last Updated: November 13, 2009.

Wave of disabilities could overburden health-care system, researchers fear.

FRIDAY, Nov. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Baby boomers in the United States may enter their 60s with far more physical disabilities than previous generations, which could spell trouble for an already overburdened health-care system.

That's the finding of University of California, Los Angeles researchers who analyzed data from the 1988 and 1999 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to identify changes in disability trends among older adults.

The study authors looked at four areas of disability: basic daily living activities, such as walking from room to room and getting in and out of bed; instrumental activities, such as doing household chores or preparing meals; mobility, including walking one-quarter mile or climbing 10 steps without stopping for rest; and functional limitations, such as stooping, crouching or kneeling.

Between 1988 and 1999, disability among people in their 60s increased between 40 percent and 70 percent in all areas except functional limitations. The increases were considerably higher among non-white and overweight people. During that same time, there were no significant changes among people aged 70 to 79. Among those 80 and over, there was a decrease in functional limitations.

The growing levels of disability among people in their 60s "are disturbing," study principal investigator Teresa Seeman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology, said in a news release.

"Increases in disability in that group are concerning because it's a big group," she said. "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."

The study will be published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines good health habits for those 60 and older.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Nov. 12, 2009