Health trends in the elderly population: getting better and getting worse

Gerontologist. 2007 Apr;47(2):150-8. doi: 10.1093/geront/47.2.150.


Health trends in the fastest growing sector of the population, the oldest old, have received much attention during the past decade because of the rising costs of medical and long-term care. Many studies have suggested a compression of morbidity in this sector, implying that the future care needs of elderly people will not follow the demographic prognoses. Most of these studies have used health indicators based on disability, a concept that is contextually embedded. We have taken a closer look at health-trend surveys with a focus on the health indicator used. Our findings reveal that although disability measures often show improvement, there is a simultaneous increase in chronic disease and functional impairments-health components that require care resources. That is, an expansion of other health problems may accompany a compression of disability. Therefore, a concept of general morbidity is not sufficient when discussing health trends and the need for care services in the elderly population. Because different indicators do not show the same trends over time, we suggest a more refined discussion that distinguishes between different health components. In addition, different components have different implications for the amount and kind of care resources needed. If the current positive trends in disability continue, future need for social services and long-term care may not parallel demographic projections. Trends in disease and functional limitations seem to have taken a different direction, suggesting a parallel or increased need for resources in medical care, rehabilitation, and compensatory interventions such as assistive technology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Humans
  • Population Surveillance*
  • United States