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Elderly Found Suffering Fewer Disabilities

March 18, 1997|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Chronic disability among older Americans has dropped steadily since the early 1980s, a finding that may shape the debate over Medicare and other government health programs, Duke University researchers said Monday.

It is well-known that Americans are living longer, but the study appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that people do not spend all their senior years disabled. Rather, more people remain reasonably fit and independent until late in life.

"When we speak of the 'old-old,' we now usually mean people who are 85 or older. Functionally speaking, a 65-year-old today is much younger than a 65-year-old" was a generation ago, Duke demographer Kenneth Manton said in a telephone interview from the Durham, N.C., campus.

The researchers said the chronic disability rate for people 65 and older dropped by 15% from 1982 to 1994. The decline was most pronounced in the final five years studied and among the older and most-disabled populations.

By definition, the chronically disabled are people in a long-term-care setting or people who cannot take care of themselves on a daily basis for at least three months.

There were 7.1 million chronically disabled people in the nation in 1994, many on Medicare or Medicaid.

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