Older Americans: Key Indicators of Well-Being

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics has released its 2012 indicators of well-being for older adults. Overall, researchers from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics revealed 37 indicators of well-being for the nation’s older generation.

The 2012 reportis the sixth such report the agency has released, identifying broad indicators of well-being with the purpose of monitoring them over time and as a means to facilitate discussion among policymakers for the benefit of older Americans. This year’s report includes indicators related to economic status, health status, risks and behaviors, utilization of healthcare services and costs, demographic characteristics and a special feature on end-of-life care. Here are just a few of the major highlights from the detailed report.


With the Baby Boomer generation entering its golden years, the older population in America is growing rapidly. There are a few key demographic trends emerging as this shift occurs:

  • The up-and-coming aging population is better educated and more racially diverse than previous generations.
  • Increased life expectancy has resulted in an increased number of males over the age of 85 who are Veterans.


The economic characteristics of younger generations may be looking bleak after a few years of a volatile economy, decreases in 401(k) contributions, loss of real estate equity and high unemployment rates. But the same doesn’t hold true for older Americans; in fact, the net worth of this group has increased by 80 percent (on average), and the proportion of older Americans living in poverty or just above the poverty line has decreased.

Health care needs and costs play into well-being of older Americans.

Image via Health Beat.

Health Status

Health status among older adults is a mixed bag. On one hand, life expectancy overall has increased, but it still lags behind other developed nations. Some diseases are resulting in fewer deaths thanks to advances in research, but others are on the rise. Chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure and arthritis, are increasingly common in the 65-plus age group, yet overall, members of this population tend to report their health as good, very good or excellent.

Rates of obesity have declined among older women, and increased for older men. As of 2010, just “11 percent of Americans 65 and older reported participating in leisure-time aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities that met the 2008 Federal physical activity guidelines.” Socialization among older adults tends to decrease with age, with 55 to 64-year-olds spending about 11 percent of their time on socialization and communication. For adults 75 and older, this figure decreases to 8 percent.

Health Care

It’s no surprise that healthcare costs increased dramatically in the 1990’s and 2000’s. But it may come as a surprise that between 2006 and 2008, costs remained pretty flat after adjusting for inflation. Medicare Advantage and HMO plan utilization has increased between 2005 and 2009, from 16 percent of Medicare beneficiaries (age 65-plus, who enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan) to 28 percent in 2009.

End of Life Care

Over the past decade, there’s been a shift in the types of end-of-life care Americans utilize. Over the past 20 years, more Americans are dying at home (15 percent in 1989 to 24 percent in 2009) while less deaths are occurring in acute care settings (49 percent in 1989 to 32 percent in 2009). Hospice care is being increasingly utilized during the last month of life, rising from 19 percent of decedents in  1999, to 43 percent in 2009. At the same time, use of intensive care units (ICUs) and coronary care units (CCUs) has increased, although not as dramatically, from 22 percent in 1999 to 27 percent in 2009.

Having a thorough picture of the state of well-being of older Americans helps policymakers, and the public, to discuss and plan for the needs of our aging population. By having information available, such as the shifting preferences in end-of-life care and the financial situation of America’s aging population, we can shape elder care to meet both the needs and preferences of our elders.



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