Heterogeneity in Healthy Aging

Published in: The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, v. 69, no. 6, June 2014, p. 640-649

Posted on RAND.org on June 01, 2014

by David Lowsky, S. Jay Olshansky, Jay Bhattacharya, Dana P. Goldman

Read More

Access further information on this document at The Journals of Gerontology: Series A

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

For a surprisingly large segment of the older population, chronological age is not a relevant marker for understanding, measuring, or experiencing healthy aging. Using the 2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the 2004 Health and Retirement Study to examine the proportion of Americans exhibiting five markers of health and the variation in health-related quality of life across each of eight age groups, we find that a significant proportion of older Americans is healthy within every age group beginning at age 51, including among those aged 85+. For example, 48% of those aged 51–54 and 28% of those aged 85+ have excellent or very good self-reported health status; similarly, 89% of those aged 51–54 and 56% of those aged 85+ report no health-based limitations in work or housework. Also, health-related quality of life ranges widely within every age group, yet there is only a comparatively small variation in median quality of life across age groups, suggesting that older Americans today may be experiencing substantially different age-health trajectories than their predecessors. Patterns are similar for medical expenditures. Several policy implications are explored.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.