New Series of Reports to Monitor Health of Older Americans

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, (301) 458-4800


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has developed a new series of reports to focus attention on some of the most important health issues facing today’s generation of older Americans. Aging Trends, produced with support from the National Institute on Aging, uses data from a variety of sources to help monitor the health and well-being of the older population. The first four reports in this new series include Trends in Causes of Death Among the Elderly, Trends in Vision and Hearing Among Older Americans, The Oral Health of Older Americans, and The Changing Profile of Nursing Home Residents: 1985-1997. Each report identifies opportunities for prevention and further research, describes those most at risk, and points to areas where increased use of existing services and aids would be beneficial.

Highlights of the first issues:

Death Among the Elderly
  • Since 1990 life expectancy in the United States has dramatically increased. At the turn of the century, less than half of all Americans lived past age 65; today over 80 percent of Americans can expect to do so.
  • The leading causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and stroke, accounting for 60 percent of all deaths. Other chronic diseases also rank high as causes of death, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and pneumonia and influenza.
  • Biomedical breakthroughs, public health initiatives, and social changes may reduce mortality further and increase the length of life.

Vision and Hearing
  • About one-fifth of people aged 70 years and over have visual impairments. Visual impairment is an important cause of activity limitation and disability and puts older Americans at greater risk of falls and other injuries.
  • The four main causes of visual impairment are cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. There is effective treatment for cataracts and both glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can be treated and their progression slowed with early detection. Treatment is not available for most cases of macular degeneration, and by the year 2030, it is expected that macular degeneration will cause more blindness in the U.S. than glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy combined.
  • Glaucoma is twice as common among the black than the white older population and has doubled for African Americans since the 1980s. Age-related macular degeneration is more common in women than in men and in the white than the black older population. All visual impairments increase with age.
  • A third of older Americans are hearing impaired. About one-quarter of those 70-74 years of age have hearing problems but this increased to half by age 85. Older men at all ages were more likely than women to be hearing impaired.
  • Older people were less likely to have their hearing tested and use hearing aids than they were to have their eyes checked and wear glasses.

Oral Health
  • More older people are keeping their natural teeth than ever before. However, among those aged 65 years and over there are sharp differences by income, with those in poverty twice as likely as those with higher incomes to have lost all their teeth.
  • Many older Americans take medications for chronic conditions that have side effects detrimental to their oral health. These include antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressants.
  • One-third of adults aged 65 years and over have untreated dental caries; slightly over 40 percent have periodontal disease.
  • Only 22 percent of older persons are covered by dental insurance; most elderly dental expenses are paid out-of-pocket.

Nursing Homes
  • Americans are entering nursing homes at a later age than in the past. Average age on admission is up from 81 years in 1985 to almost 83 years in 1997.
  • In 1997 nursing home residents required more assistance with activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating than a decade ago.
  • Nursing home stays were shorter in 1997 than a decade earlier, perhaps reflecting more use of home health care or the use of nursing homes for short-term rehabilitation.
  • At current rates there would be approximately 3 million residents in nursing homes in the year 2030, roughly double the number now. Even with the use of alternatives such as home health care, assisted living, and other arrangements, America will need to consider not only more nursing home capacity but also community and work changes that support the family caregiver.

This series of reports is available to view or download without charge from the interactive data warehouse, “Trends in Health and Aging.” This Web site contains State and national trend data on risk factors, health status, health care utilization, mortality, and costs of care for the U.S. population 45 years of age and over. Data on the site come from the range of CDC/NCHS data systems, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Health Care Financing Administration, and the U.S. Census Bureau. Additional State, regional, and national data on aging are available in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (48 [8]: 1-156).

For more information, contact the CDC/NCHS Public Affairs Office at (301) 458-4800.

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