ANN ARBOR—Over three decades, the gap has remained steady between older blacks and whites in the expected number of years to be lived without disability, a newly released University of Michigan study found.
The good news: both groups are living longer.
But in 2011, at age 65, older whites could expect about three-fourths of remaining years to be active. For older blacks, the figure was only two-thirds. The gap was a similar size in 1982. The findings also indicated that at age 85, when long-term care needs are greater, the gap between the two groups grew.
The researchers used data from the 1982 and 2004 National Long Term Care Survey and the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study to compare late-life mortality and disability among blacks and white Americans. In each year, respondents reported whether they were able to perform daily activities, such as eating, dressing, doing laundry and taking medicine, without help.
At age 85, only one-third of remaining years were disability-free for blacks in 2011; for whites in the same year the figure was 45 percent. The disadvantage for older black women was especially large—at age 85, only 25 percent of their remaining years were expected to be lived without disability.
"Given that the baby-boom generation's long-term care demands are expected to peak in 2030, our findings support the need to continue closely monitoring the needs of older adults and the efficacy of health system reforms in meeting them," said Vicki Freedman, the study's lead author and a research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research.
Freedman collaborated on the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging, with colleague Brenda Spillman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Health Policy Center.
The study appears in the August issue of Health Affairs.