Census report: Fewer elderly with disabilities

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The aging baby boomer population may have less of an impact on the long-term care industry than once thought, according to new statistics compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aging Americans are living longer, healthier lives with fewer disabilities, according to "65+ in the United States: 2005," which was released late last week.

The percentage of people over age 65 who had a disability that put "a substantial limitation in major life activity" decreased from 26.2% in 1982 to 19.7% in 1999, according to researchers from the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging. They used population data from Census surveys and other sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In addition, older Americans are reportedly more prosperous and better educated, and researchers believe that trend will only increase as the first boomers hit retirement age in 2011. Researchers also note that the positive trend applies to men and women alike, and indicates an improved quality of life for that population cohort.

While many of aging baby boomers may eventually become disabled, researchers contend it will happen later in life, and they will live more of their years beyond 65 free of disability. This timing could ultimately lessen the social and economic impact the future's elderly will have, the report states.

One caution by researchers: The growing obesity rate may neutralize the positive disabilities trend.