Older adults may be more likely than previous generations to have multiple health concerns, study finds

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Chronic health conditions are becoming more common in older consumers

A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State explored how different generations fare when it comes to chronic medical conditions. According to their findings, older adults are more likely than earlier generations to struggle with several health concerns. 

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were beginning to see declines in life expectancy among middle-aged Americans, a reversal of more than a century long trend,” said researcher Steven Haas. “Furthermore, the past 30 years has seen population health in the U.S. fall behind that in other high-income countries, and our findings suggest that the U.S. is likely to continue to fall further behind our peers.” 

Health risks for older adults

The researchers analyzed data from participants over the age of 51 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. They were most interested in understanding how many older people have more than one of the nine major types of chronic conditions: cancer, cognitive impairment, heart disease, diabetes, high depressive symptoms, high blood pressure, arthritis, lung disease, and stroke. 

The study showed that older adults were both more likely to have multiple chronic health conditions, and experience them at earlier ages than previous generations. The researchers found that Baby Boomers, who were born between 1948 and 1965, were the most likely to fall into this category. 

They also learned that high blood pressure and arthritis were the two most common chronic conditions that the participants reported throughout the study. Additionally, the team has reason to believe that depression and diabetes were largely responsible for this surge in health concerns among the different generations. 

The researchers also explained that current medical technology allows consumers to be diagnosed with conditions that may have previously gone undetected for several years, which could also explain why this generation of older adults is experiencing more health concerns. Now, the researchers want to do more work in this area to better understand the specifics behind these health concerns. 

“Later-born generations have had access to more advanced modern medicine for a greater period of their lives, therefore we may expect them to enjoy better health than those born to prior generations,” said researcher Nicholas Bishop. “Though this is partially true, advanced medical treatments may enable individuals to live with multiple chronic conditions that once would have proven fatal, potentially increasing the likelihood that any one person experiences multimorbidity.” 

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