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David Geffen School of Medicine
The Cutting Edge

The Frailer Generation

IN A DEVELPMENT that could have significant ramifications for the nation’s healthcare system, Baby Boomers may be entering their 60s suffering more disabilities than their counterparts of previous generations.

Researchers from the Division of Geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that the cohort of individuals between the ages of 60 and 69 exhibited increases in several types of disabilities over time. By contrast, those between the ages of 70 and 79 and those aged 80 and over saw no significant increases.

While the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, focused on groups born prior to the Baby Boom, the findings hold “significant and sobering implications” for healthcare because they suggest that people now entering their 60s could have more disabilities, putting an added burden on an already fragile system, researchers say.

“If this is true, it is something we need to address,” says Teresa Seeman, M.D., professor of medicine and epidemiology and the study’s principal investigator. “It will put increasing pressure on our society to take care of these disabled individuals.”

The researchers used two sets of data – the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) for 1988-94 and 1999- 2004 – to examine how disabilities for the three groups of adults aged 60-69, 70-79, and 80 and older had changed over time. They assessed disability trends in four areas: basic activities associated with daily living, such as walking from room to room; instrumental activities, such as performing household chores; mobility, including climbing 10 steps without stopping for rest; and functional limitations, which include stooping, crouching or kneeling.

The researchers found that between the periods 1988-94 and 1999-2004, disability among those in their 60s increased between 40 and 70 percent in each area studied except functional limitations, independent of sociodemographic characteristics, health status and behaviors, and relative weight. The increases were considerably higher among nonwhite and overweight subgroups.

“We’re not sure why these disabilities are going up,” Dr. Seeman says. “But if this trend continues, it could have a major impact on us, due to the resources that will have to be devoted to those people.”


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