Two decades later, fewer seniors are disabled, in nursing homes

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It's not just your imagination. Older people are acting younger, and as a population, their rate of disability has sharply decreased over the last 20 years. As a result, the percentage of those in need of long-term care services has declined, according to results of the National Long-Term Care Survey.

Chronic disability rates, both severe and less severe, fell among the over-65 set from 26.5% in 1982 to 19% in 2004-2005. Plus, the proportion of people without disabilities increased the most in the oldest age group (85 and older), rising 32.6%, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Environmental modifications, assistive technologies and biomedical advances may have contributed to a drop in disability rates, according to researchers at Duke University who conducted the study. In addition, the percentage of Medicare enrollees aged 65 and older who lived in long-term care institutions, such as nursing homes, during the study period decreased from 7.5% to 4%.

The analysis was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.