September 22, 2020
Isolation May Worsen Impact of Disability
A danger for working-age people with disabilities is that they become socially isolated, which can cause a further deterioration in their health and ability to function.
A good example of this vicious cycle is people with severe arthritis. If joint pain makes walking more difficult, it can limit one’s ability to do things with friends or be out in public, which means more social isolation and less exercise to ease the pain’s disabling effects.
A new Mathematica study connects this phenomenon to the sharp rise in the share of Social Security disability awards going to people with arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
Between 1997 and 2017, there was a slight increase, to 13.4 percent, in the share of Americans with musculoskeletal conditions who reported being socially isolated, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
Discomfort in social settings is also present in the general population – but at about half the rate, or 6 percent of adults.
Another contributor to social isolation is cognitive impairment, which includes confusion and poor memory. Cognitive impairments are also on the rise among people with arthritis and related conditions. The increase can’t solely be attributed to the aging of the U.S. population either, because the analysis controlled for age in order to eliminate its effects.
To understand the role of social isolation in disability, the researchers point to the vicious cycle between the two.
“Whether social isolation is exacerbating disability or disability is exacerbating social isolation,” they said, “the contributing limitations are risk factors” that will worsen a disability that already exists. …Learn More
September 10, 2020
Why the Mix of Disabilities is Changing
The mix of disabilities for people receiving federal disability insurance has changed in important ways that often reflect trends in the health of the population as a whole.
Two disabling conditions that have become a growing share of Social Security’s benefit awards in recent decades are mood disorders and various musculoskeletal problems, which include arthritis and back pain.
First, consider mood disorders. They range from depression and bipolar disorder to irritability and seasonal affective disorder, and they can hamper someone’s ability to work. Mirroring the rising share of awards for mood disorders, their prevalence in the population has edged up from 54.6 percent of adults in 1997 to 56.2 percent in 2017, according to a study by Mathematica, a research organization.
Second, disability awards to people with musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain have increased dramatically. These conditions are often aggravated by carrying excess weight, so the rise in cases aligns with the researchers’ estimate that the adult obesity rate has surged from about 20 percent to 31 percent.
But a related finding about musculoskeletal conditions is more difficult to explain. Despite the growth in disability awards involving these conditions, the share of the population afflicted by them – about a third – hasn’t changed much, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers found one clue to this apparent contradiction in a separate analysis indicating that this population’s ability to work may be deteriorating over time. …Learn More
June 16, 2020
Readers Lament Decline in Boomer Health
The share of people in their late 50s with the second most severe form of obesity has tripled since the early 1990s. This grim fact, featured in a recent Squared Away article, clarifies COVID-19’s danger to older Americans.
The article, “Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60,” summarized research establishing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents’ generation due to several conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing daily activities. The poorest Americans’ health deteriorated the fastest – and COVID-19 is preying on them.
“This decline in markers of metabolic health seems to correlate with increased vulnerability to the pandemic,” wrote one reader, Dan O’Brien, who was among several who commented on recent health-related blogs.
That’s what happened during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Hospitalizations – and possibly death rates – were tied to obesity in adults with multiple health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“The vast majority of [COVID-19 patients] who reach the ICU suffer from comorbidities. My takeaway is that metabolic dysfunction is tied to immune-system failure in ways we don’t yet understand,” O’Brien said.
Another reader, Lorraine Porto, advocated a simple way for people to keep their weight in check: walk. An elderly woman she knows “walked miles every week.” Porto believes this healthy habit saved the woman’s life when she broke her hip in her 80s and was “walking around, sprightly as ever, less than two months later.” The woman lived into her 90s, Porto said.
A second health-related blog popular with readers looked at the unexpected costs of treating medical conditions that become more common in old age.
Older workers and retirees who try to anticipate their future medical expenses might feel a bit like they’re throwing a dart at a dartboard. The researchers did the work for them in a study described in the blog, “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” …Learn More
April 7, 2020
Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60
Baby boomers aren’t as healthy as their parents were at the same age.
This sobering finding comes out of a RAND study that took a series of snapshots over a 24-year period of the health status of Americans when they were between the ages of 54 and 60.
The researchers found that overall health has deteriorated in this age group, and they identified the specific conditions that are getting worse, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing routine daily activities.
Obesity is an overarching problem: the share of people in this age group with class II obesity, which puts them at very high risk of diabetes, tripled to 15 percent between 1992 and 2016.
In addition to declining health, the study for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium uncovered strong evidence of growing health disparities among 54 to 60-year-olds: the poorest people are getting sicker faster than people with more wealth.
The increase in women’s pain levels has been starkest over the past 24 years. The wealthiest women have seen an increase of 6 percentage points in the share experiencing moderate to severe pain from conditions like joint or back pain. But the poorest women saw a 21-point leap. The disparity for men was also large: up 7 points for the wealthiest men versus 15 points for the poorest men.
The bottom line: today’s 54 to 60-year-olds are not as healthy as their parents were, and the study suggests that the disparities between rich and poor will continue to grow.
To read this study, authored by Peter Hudomiet, Michael D. Hurd, and Susann Rohwedder, see “Trends in Health and Mortality in the United States.”Learn More
February 4, 2020
US Life Span Lags Other Rich Countries
Life expectancy for 65-year-olds in the United States is less than in France, Japan, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Fifty years ago, we ranked third.
First, some perspective: during that time, the average U.S. life span increased dramatically, from age 79 to 84. The problem is that we haven’t kept up with the gains made by the nine other industrialized countries, which has caused our ranking to slide.
A troubling undercurrent in this trend is that women, more than men, are creating the downdraft, according to an analysis by the Center for Retirement Research. The life expectancy of 65-year-old American women is 2½ years less than women in the other countries. The difference for men is only about a year.
The center’s researchers identified the main culprits holding us back: circulatory diseases, respiratory conditions, and diabetes. Smoking and obesity are the two major risk factors fueling these trends.
Americans used to consume more cigarettes per capita than anyone in the world. That’s no longer true. In recent years, the U.S. smoking rate has fallen sharply, resulting in fewer deaths from high blood pressure, stroke, and other circulatory diseases.
But women haven’t made as much progress as men. Men’s smoking peaked back in the mid-1960s, and by around 1990, the delayed benefits of fewer and fewer smokers started improving men’s life expectancy. Smoking didn’t peak for women until the late-1970s, and their death rate for smoking-related diseases continued to rise for many years after that, slowing the gains in U.S. life expectancy overall. More recently, this pattern has reversed so that women are now beginning to see some improvement from reduced smoking.
Obesity is a growing problem across the developed world. But in this country, the obesity rate is increasing two times faster than in the other nine countries. Nearly 40 percent of American adults today are obese, putting them at risk of type-2 diabetes and circulatory and cardiovascular diseases. …Learn More
October 10, 2019
What’s Driving the Longevity Gap
The decline in U.S. life expectancy is unlike anything we’ve seen
Bombshell headlines like this popped up in major news outlets last November after the government reported that life expectancy in 2017 fell for the third year in a row.
This is a troubling break from the steady improvements in lifespans since 1900, which were powered by a combination of medical breakthroughs and healthcare policy. Early in the 20th century, antibiotics dramatically increased infant lifespans. Later, new treatments like statins and stents, as well as expanded access to healthcare through Medicare and Medicaid, increased life expectancy across the age range.
But there’s another story behind this story: life expectancy very much depends on where one falls on the economic ladder.
Between 1979 and 2011 – prior to the very recent fall in longevity – the increase in lifespans was much larger for more educated, higher-earning Americans than the gains for people with less education and lower incomes, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR).
Smoking is an important factor in this socioeconomic divide. The decline in smoking and cardiovascular disease greatly contributed to rising longevity in the latter half of the 20th century. But while all Americans are smoking less today, those in lower socioeconomic groups still smoke much more. Today, one in four of them is a smoker, compared with just one smoker for every 10 people who attended college, the CRR found.
Looking ahead, education will remain a clear dividing line, and life expectancy will continue to depend crucially on the future prevalence and impact of smoking, as well as obesity, CRR predicted. …Learn More