More baby boomers are having trouble with common physical tasks such as climbing stairs, stooping, walking a quarter mile or reaching overhead, a new study says.
That could mean trouble for taxpayers and families in coming years, as increasingly frail boomers swell the ranks of the aged, with fewer young people to provide care or pay the bills.
More than 40 percent of people ages 50-64 say they have health problems that make routine household chores difficult, up 4 percent in the last decade. Rates for those who have trouble stooping rose 9 percent. Difficulty walking up 10 steps rose 14 percent. Many use canes, wheelchairs or other equipment to help them cope.
Although less than 2 percent are so disabled that they need personal care, "this is a disappointing trend with potentially far-reaching and long-term negative consequences," said Richard Suzman of the National Institute on Aging, which funded the study by the Rand Corp. and the University of Michigan. "If people have such difficulties in middle age, how can we expect that this group ... will be able to take care of itself with advancing age?"
The study compared data from the federal government's National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2007, considered a good predictor of eventual nursing home placement.
Many of the problem conditions began before age 50, but growing obesity rates were only a modest factor. Most obese boomers are "relatively healthy," the study said.
The top health conditions causing problems were arthritis or rheumatism, up 16 percent in the decade; tendinitis, bursitis and similar conditions, up 109 percent; and nervous system problems, up 50 percent.
Among people 65 and older, disability rates have been dropping -- especially from heart and circulatory disease and vision impairment -- even though the rate of chronic illness has been rising.
That could mean earlier and better treatment are reducing the severity of the illnesses, the researchers noted --potentially ways to reduce disability among baby boomers as well.