A new survey from the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare
and USA TODAY finds that most older Americans feel their best years are
still to come, but not all are prepared for the health and financial
challenges of aging.
Close to 70 percent of respondents say the past year of their lives has
been normal or better than normal, and more than 75 percent of seniors
ages 60-69 expect their quality of life to stay the same or get better
over the next five to 10 years.
Seniors positive outlook confirms the many improvements that have
resulted in greater longevity and quality of life for older Americans,
who are enjoying a level of health and security unknown to their parents
and grandparents. Many aging experts, however, contend that todays
seniors face challenges unlike those experienced by previous
generations, particularly in living with long-term chronic health
conditions and the need for longer-term financial security.
The survey also found that advances in senior wellness and security have
not been universal, due in part to a lack of awareness of programs and
services that can support older adults. Fifteen percent of surveyed
seniors say they are not confident their finances will last through
their retirement years, and 8 percent have no financial plan for
retirement. Among those respondents making less than $30,000 a year, 41
percent say they are unaware of all the benefits and programs that could
help meet their needs.
UnitedHealthcare, NCOA and USA TODAY surveyed 2,250 U.S. adults age 60
or older for the inaugural United States of Aging Survey to examine
seniors outlook and preparedness for aging. The survey focused both on
individual readiness for aging as well as seniors perceptions of their
communitys ability to meet their needs as they age. Of the total
sample, 40 percent have low to moderate incomes making $30,000 or less
per year similar to the U.S. population.
The survey was conducted as part of an ongoing partnership between
UnitedHealthcare and NCOA to help older adults as well as their families
and caregivers identify and overcome the challenges they might face as
Many Older Americans Expect Their Health to
Many of todays seniors are strongly optimistic about what the future
holds for their health. More than 25 percent of Americans ages 65 to 69
say their health is better than normal, and the vast majority of all age
groups expect their health to get better or stay about the same over the
next five to 10 years (75 percent of boomers ages 60-64; 70 percent of
those ages 65-69; 66 percent of respondents ages 70 and older).
A large majority of seniors give themselves high marks when it comes to
maintaining their health: 92 percent say they manage stress very well or
somewhat well, and 84 percent say they are confident that they will be
able to do what is needed to maintain their health over the next five to
The percentage of respondents who exercise or engage in regular physical
activity to maintain their health is considerably lower. Just over half
(52 percent) of the surveyed seniors say they exercise or are physically
active at least four days per week, with another quarter indicating they
are active one to three days per week. About one in 10 respondents
reported that their exercise or physical activity is limited to just a
few days each month, and 11 percent are never physically active.
Its encouraging that so many of our survey respondents feel confident
and empowered to maintain their health as they age, but its important
that this positive mindset doesnt prevent them from taking the
necessary steps to counter the epidemic of obesity among our senior
population, such as exercising most days of the week to help maintain a
healthy weight, said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer,
UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement.
With appropriate preventive care and lifestyle changes, growing older
doesnt have to mean living with chronic diseases and disability. By
conducting this survey annually, we hope to better understand the
reality of aging in America so that individuals, communities and health
care providers will be ready to meet the needs of a rapidly growing
senior population, said Randall.
The Most Vulnerable Seniors Are the Least
Confident in Their Future Health and Security
While the majority of survey respondents feel financially secure, a
significant minority face the possibility of severe financial hardship.
Nearly a quarter of respondents have difficulty paying their monthly
living expenses, and one in five seniors is one major financial event
away from a fiscal crisis. If they were to incur an unexpected expense,
19 percent of respondents are not confident in their ability to pay.
When asked about their retirement savings, 8 percent of respondents
report they have no financial plan whatsoever.
Concerns about financial instability are most pronounced among low- and
moderate-income survey respondents. Nearly half of this group (46
percent) is not confident that their income will be sufficient to meet
their monthly expenses over the next five to 10 years.
A third of survey respondents feel financially unprepared for the costs
of long-term care. Further, seniors who are most likely to need
long-term care those of low and moderate income and with chronic
conditions are also the least confident they will be able to afford it.
Low- and moderate-income seniors are also more likely to report having a
chronic health condition (72 percent vs. 52 percent) and are less apt to
engage in physical activity 53 percent report exercising once a week
or less. This group is twice as likely to lack confidence in their
ability to manage their heath over the next five to 10 years.
The most vulnerable older adults, who are also most in need of health
care, economic help and support services to remain independent and age
in place, are the least confident they will be able to get the help
they need, said Rick Birkel, Ph.D., acting senior vice president,
healthy aging, and director of the NCOAs Self-Management Alliance. But
even small increases in benefits, reduced-cost services or reduced
expenses can go a long way in helping vulnerable seniors remain
independent. We hope that this yearly survey will help lead communities
to educate older adults about programs and services that can improve
their overall quality of life.
Of the one in five seniors over the age of 65 who are still employed
either full or part time, the majority (69 percent) say they are still
working to bring in household income, but their decision is not driven
solely by the need for money. Working seniors also cite productivity (76
percent) and enjoyment (70 percent) as their top reasons to stay in the
Older Americans Who Aspire to Age in Place
Must Plan for Physical, Financial Needs
Aging in place, defined as the ability to stay in ones home or
current living situation in the years ahead, is the preference of about
90 percent of survey respondents who say they intend to continue living
in their current home for the next five to 10 years. Of this group, 85
percent are confident in their ability to do so without making any
significant modifications to their home.
Aging in place should be attainable for most young-old seniors in
their 60s, but boomers planning for their retirement would be wise to
consider their likely need for support as they age into their 70s, 80s
and beyond. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents between the ages of
60 and 69 report that they find it very easy to live independently, but
that percentage drops to 43 percent for respondents ages 70 and older.
Nearly two in 10 Americans ages 70 and older say they either cannot live
independently and accomplish daily tasks without assistance from
caregivers or community resources or find it difficult to do so.
Seniors planning to stay in their homes cite not wanting to move out of
a home they like and a desire to stay close to friends and family as the
top motivators behind their choice. But current economic realities are
also a factor: nearly a quarter of respondents who plan to stay in their
current home do not believe they can sell it in todays market, and 26
percent say they cannot afford the cost of moving their belongings.
Many Baby Boomers Are Not Confident Their
Communities Will Help Them Age Successfully
The majority of survey respondents are satisfied with the resources and
services in their community that can help them lead a healthy and
independent lifestyle. But with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day
for the next decade, it is likely those resources will be under
increasing strain. More than a quarter of boomer respondents in their
60s say they are not confident that their community will have all of the
resources and services they need to help them be healthy and independent
over the next five to 10 years.
Among the community limitations boomers may contend with is lack of
safe, reliable public transportation. Only half of the survey
respondents feel their community offers a high-quality public
transportation service. More than half of seniors strongly agree they
feel safe walking in their communities. Close to 60 percent never walk
to places they regularly need to go.
Seniors report mixed feelings about the impact their community has on
their health. Half of respondents indicated their community helps them
live a happy and healthy life, but nearly as many (42 percent) said
their community has no bearing on their health or happiness.
To access full survey findings, including results for seniors in Dallas,
Miami, Milwaukee, Orange County, Calif., and upstate New York, visit the
newsroom at www.UnitedHealthGroup.com
About the Survey
Penn Schoen Berland conducted 2,250 telephone interviews with Americans
ages 60 and older between May 10 and June 6, 2012. This included a
nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents, and oversamples
of 250 respondents in upstate New York, Milwaukee, Miami, Dallas and
Orange County, Calif. The margin of error for the general population is
+/-3.1 percent and 6.2 percent for each of the oversamples. The data is
reflective of the U.S. Census Bureau demographic statistics in terms of
gender, age, ethnicity, income, education and region.
The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy
organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. NCOA is a national voice
for millions of older adults especially those who are vulnerable and
disadvantaged and the community organizations that serve them. It
brings together nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government to
develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults.
NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help
seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live
independently, and remain active in their communities. For more
information, please visit: www.ncoa.org
is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by
simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and
wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care
providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit
programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid
beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians
and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare
serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and