August 10, 2012

Older Americans Look Forward to Aging, but Aren’t Prepared

Seniors report confidence, but aren’t preparing physically, financially

More than a fifth of those 60 and older get little or no exercise. More than a fifth of those 60 and older get little or no exercise.

Americans are upbeat but uncertain about aging, The National Council on Aging and UnitedHealthcare found in a survey of people 60 and older, released Wednesday.

The survey, “The United States of Aging,” found more than three-quarters of people between ages 60 and 69 say they expect their quality of life will stay the same or get better in the next five to 10 years. More than a quarter say their health is better than normal. Across all age groups, the “vast majority” say their health will get better or stay the same over the next five to 10 years.

The majority of respondents are managing stress well, and 84% say they’re confident they can do what it takes to stay healthy. That confidence doesn’t necessarily translate to action, though. Just over half of seniors say they exercise at least four days per week. Ten percent say they only exercise a few days a month, and 11% don’t exercise at all.

“It’s encouraging that so many of our survey respondents feel confident and empowered to maintain their health as they age, but it’s important that this positive mindset doesn’t prevent them from taking the necessary steps to counter the epidemic of obesity among our senior population, such as exercising most days of the week to help maintain a healthy weight,” Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare’s medicare and retirement business, said in a statement.

That confidence-action gap can be seen in seniors’ financial lives, too. A majority of respondents said they felt financially secure, but nearly a quarter have difficulty paying monthly expenses. Nearly 20% are “one major financial event away from a fiscal crisis.” Maybe it’s good news, then, that the percentage of respondents with no retirement plan is relatively small: 8%.

Financial and health concerns intersect at long-term care. A third of respondents say they’re unprepared to pay for such care.

What’s troubling is that the survey found the people most likely to need care, low- and moderate-income seniors, are least likely to be able to afford it. Seventy-two percent of respondents in those income groups have a chronic health condition.

“The most vulnerable older adults, who are also most in need of health care, economic help and support services to remain independent and ‘age in place,’ are the least confident they will be able to get the help they need,” Rick Birkel, Ph.D., acting senior vice president for healthy aging and director of the NCOA’s Self-Management Alliance, said in a statement. “But even small increases in benefits, reduced-cost services or reduced expenses can go a long way in helping vulnerable seniors remain independent.”

Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents would like to stay in their homes as they age, and 85% are confident they can do that without making major changes to their house. The survey stresses the importance of being prepared for needing care in the future, though. Although nearly two-thirds of boomers say living on their own is easy, just 43% of respondents 70 and older agreed. About 20% of respondents in that age group say they can’t live on their own or undertake daily tasks without assistance.

The report was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland among 2,250 Americans 60 and older. It was sponsored by the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA TODAY.

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