Blog | Monday, February 11, 2013

QD: News Every Day--Bleak outlook for aging baby boomers' health

Alzheimer's dementia will increase nearly three-fold in the next 40 years, and the baby boomers also report being less healthy than the previous generation, two studies separately reported.

To calculate Alzheimer's rates, researchers combined data from a longitudinal, population-based study combined with mortality, education, and Census Bureau estimates to draw their conclusions. Results appeared online Feb. 6 at Neurology.

In 2010, there were 4.7 million seniors with Alzheimer's dementia (95% confidence interval [CI], 4.0 to 5.5). Of these, 0.7 million (95% CI, 0.4 to 0.9) were ages 65 to 74, 2.3 million were ages 75 to 84 (95% CI, 1.7 to 2.9), and 1.8 million were 85 years or older (95% CI, 1.4 to 2.2). The total number of people with Alzheimer's dementia in 2050 is projected to be 13.8 million, with 7 million ages 85 years or older.

The numbers would decrease substantially if an intervention merely delayed the onset of Alzheimer's the researchers noted.

"These projections emphasize the need to find either prevention or treatment for AD (Alzheimer's disease) dementia in order to decrease the burden of future disease on individuals, families, and the medical care system," they wrote.

Also, it was recently and separately reported that baby boomers aren't aging as healthfully as their parents did, according to a research letter published online Feb. 4 at JAMA Internal Medicine.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that boomers reported lower overall health (13.2% reporting "excellent" health compared with 32% of previous generations, P less than .001). Compared to their predecessors, boomers were more likely to need a cane or walker (6.9% vs 3.3%, P less than .001). And, 13.8% vs 10.1% were limited in work (P=.003), while 13.5% vs 8.8% had a functional limitation (P less than .001).

Baby boomers were more likely to be obese than their predecessors (38.7% vs 29.4%, P less than .001) but less likely to regularly exercise more than 12 times a month (35.0% vs 49.9%, P less than .001). And, more than half of baby boomers reported no regular physical activity (52.2% vs 17.4%, P less than .001). While they were less likely to smoke (21.3% vs 27.6%, P less than .001, they were more likely to be moderate drinkers (67.3% vs 37.2%, P less than .001).

"The findings from the present study documenting poorer health status and increased rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia support an increased likelihood for continued rising health care costs and a need for increased numbers of health professionals as baby boomers age," the researchers wrote. "Given the link between positive healthy lifestyles and subsequent health in this age group, the present study demonstrates a clear need for policies that expand efforts at prevention and healthy lifestyle promotion in the baby boomer generation."