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Elderly Report Rising Rates of Disability After 20-Year Decline

More older Americans struggling with chronic conditions, study finds

MONDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- The disability rate among U.S. senior citizens is on the rise, a surprise considering the rate had been falling since the 1980s, new research has found.

"People are living longer, but many are also living sicker," study co-author Amani Nuru-Jeter, an assistant professor of community health and human development at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, said in a university news release. "This study is providing an early warning sign that the decline in disability rates we've been hearing about might be ending."

After analyzing the period from 2000-2005, the researchers found a 9 percent increase in the number of non-institutionalized people aged 65 and older who said they have difficulty handling day-to-day activities, including dressing and bathing, because of a problem lasting six months or more.

"The combination of increasing disability rates, plus a growing population of older adults emphasizes the importance of prevention of the many chronic conditions giving rise to disability in the first place," the study's lead author, Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, explained in the release. "There is evidence, for example, that the doubling of obesity rates over the last three decades may be linked to rising disability in older people, yet the obesity problem is largely preventable."

The findings are published in the December issue of the Journals of Gerontology.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has details on preventing disability in the elderly with chronic disease.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of California Berkeley, news release, Dec. 21, 2009

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