Study: Boomers have more medical woes than their parents did at same age

Higher rates of depression, diabetes contribute to multiple chronic problems

In Georgia, there are about 100 geriatricians, according to the American Geriatrics Society.The Alzheimer’s Association predicts there will need to be nearly 400 more by 2050 to meet the demand of the state’s aging population.Geriatricians must figure out what’s part of normal aging, what problems could be related to disease and what might be a drug interaction.By 2040, about 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older, up from 1 in 8 in 2000, according to the Urban Institute.Nationally, 30,000 geriatricians will be needed by 2030 to care for about 21 million older Americans, according to the latest figures by the American Geriatric Society

Baby boomers, those people born 1948-1965, have lived through the kinds of changes few other generations can fathom. But not all those changes have been for the better.

A new study shows boomers are more likely than their parents and grandparents to have multiple health issues at the same age. Not just that, but many tend to have two key health problems up to 20 years sooner than people in the previous generation.

For their observational study, researchers analyzed 20 years of data on Americans who participated in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Participants were divided into one of seven groups:

  • Greatest generation: born 1923 or earlier
  • Early children of the Depression: 1924 to 1930
  • Late children of the Depression: 1931 to 1941
  • War babies: 1942 to 1947
  • Early boomers: 1948 to 1953
  • Mid-boomers: 1954 to 1959
  • Late baby boomers: 1960 to 1965

The scientists looked at nine chronic conditions — heart disease; hypertension (high blood pressure); stroke; diabetes; arthritis; lung disease; cancer, excluding skin cancer; high depressive symptoms; and cognitive impairment — and estimated the age, period and cohort effects to determine patterns.

According to their results for participants with multiple chronic health problems, arthritis and high blood pressure were most prevalent for all generations.

For boomers, however, higher rates of depression and diabetes contributed to chronic problems.

Study author Steven Haas told HealthDay News the research was designed to spot trends rather than determine what is driving them. But, he added, rising rates of obesity, income inequality and reduced upward mobility likely are contributors.

“There have been improvements in treating some chronic diseases over the past few decades, which allows people to live longer with disease and as a result leads to higher population-level rates of disease,” said Haas, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

The findings were published recently in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

These findings come amid a shortage of geriatricians.

In Georgia, there are about 100 geriatricians, according to the American Geriatrics Society. To meet the projected demand of the state’s aging population, there will need to be nearly 400 more by 2050, according to estimates recently released by the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Right now, we’re not going to meet that goal. We’re not even close,” Dr. Harry S. Strothers III, a geriatrician and member of the geriatric fellowship faculty at Atrium Health Navicent Family Medicine residency program in Macon, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month.

For more content like this, sign up for the Pulse newsletter here.