Later-born generations of older adults in the United States are more likely to have a greater number of chronic health conditions than the generations that preceded them, according to a study conducted by researchers at Penn State and Texas State universities.
According to the researchers, the increasing frequency of reporting multiple chronic health conditions, or multimorbidity, represents a substantial threat to the health of the country’s aging population. Also, they said, it may place increased strain on the well-being of older adults as well as medical and federal insurance systems, especially as the number of U.S. adults older than age 65 is projected to grow by more than 50% by 2050.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were beginning to see declines in life expectancy among middle-aged Americans, a reversal of more than a century-long trend,” said study co-author Steven Haas, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State. “Furthermore, the past 30 years has seen population health in the U.S. fall behind that in other high-income countries, and our findings suggest that the U.S. is likely to continue to fall further behind our peers.”
For the study, the researchers examined data about adults aged 51 years and older from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of aging Americans. The study measured multimorbidity using a count of nine chronic conditions: heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, lung disease, cancer, high depressive symptoms and cognitive impairment.
They found that more recently born generations of older adults are more likely to report a greater number of chronic conditions and experience the onset of those conditions earlier in life. Among adults with multimorbidity, arthritis and hypertension were the most prevalent conditions for all generations, and there was evidence that high depressive symptoms and diabetes contributed to the observed generational differences in multimorbidity risk.
Full findings of the study were published in The Journals of Gerontology.
The results of this latest study fall in line with the results of a federal report released last month showing that hypertension and dementia are the most common diagnoses among assisted living residents among 10 illnesses studied, with 55.2% and 33.7% of residents, respectively, having such diagnoses. That study found that 20.5% of assisted living residents have arthritis, making it the No. 4 most common ailment after depression (27.5%) among the 10 diagnoses studied, and just nudging out diabetes (20.4%).