Black people are living longer than they did 20 years ago, but they have poorer health and less access to long-term care in their later years compared with whites, according to a new study.
Blacks 65 years and older experience higher rates of disability and live fewer years without a disability compared to whites, according to a study published Tuesday in Health Affairs.
“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,” researchers concluded.
A look at physical activity trends from 1982 to 2011 for white and black adults age 65 and older found that 32% of older black adults in 2011 were living with some condition that limited their physical activity compared to 22% of whites. The margin between the two groups remained relatively unchanged from 1982, when 26% of elderly white adults had physical limitations compared to 35% of blacks.
The study also found that older white adults saw an increase in the number of years expected to live without a disability, while no such increase occurred among older black adults.
The findings are especially troubling when viewed alongside data that shows blacks are living longer lives.
In April, HHS' 39th annual assessment of the health of Americans (PDF) showed that life expectancy at birth was 6.9 years longer in 1980 for white males compared to black males, a gap that narrowed to 4.2 years by 2014. White women lived an average of 5.6 years longer than black women in 1980, but by 2014 the gap between the two groups had declined by nearly half to three years.
The Health Affairs study found that elderly black women were especially disadvantaged when it came to living with a disability.
Researchers found black women at age 65 were expected to live only 62% of their remaining years without a disability in 2011 compared to 75.8% among white men, 71.4% among white women, and 66.8% among black men at the same age.
The ongoing racial gap in disability coincides with a large decline by white adults in the use of nursing facilities over the study period and an increased use of assisted-living and community-based care facilities. The percentage of whites age 65 and older residing in a nursing facility fell from 7.2% in 1982 to 2.9% in 2011 while the percentage of black adults in such care went from 4.6% in 1982 to 4.4% in 2011.
“Our findings suggest that pinpointing which measures would be most effective in reducing dependence among older blacks—particularly older black women—is necessary and likely to be an important step toward offsetting impending pressures on the long-term care delivery system as a result of population aging,” researchers wrote.