From the January 2010 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

The coming boomer disability disaster

Wasn't the coming generation of senior citizens supposed to be the most active of all? Good question, rhetorically asked by by Nanci Hellmich in USA Today.

She reports researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California - Los Angeles found that people ages 60 to 69 have more disabilities (things like being unable to walk up 10 steps without rest and having difficulty doing chores and getting dressed) than in years past. She notes that while those are not the boomers -- the people studied were born before the end of World War II -- researchers pointed out that there are large and none-too-pretty implications if members of that huge demographic group end up becoming similarly burdened by disability. (Who will take care of them all?)

The study, published online in the American Journal of Public Health, wasn't designed to pinpoint the cause of the changes. But one possible explanation, the authors write, is that while obesity is a problem across the board, African-Americans and Hispanics tend to have higher rates of obesity and lower socioeconomic status, both of which are tied to disability, and a growing proportion of 60-to-69-year-olds are from those ethnic groups.

But even controlling for things like weight, health, and demographics, there was still an effect that couldn't be accounted for. Complicating things further, Hellmich writes, is that people over age 70 either showed no change or an improvement in disability rates.

It may be that the 60-somethings in the study had spent more of their lives being overweight or obese, says study coauthor Arun Karlamangla, a geriatrician at UCLA. Those extra years of stress on the body might have produced more disability. Let's hope they have a good DI policy in place.

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