Survey Finds Most Older Adults Upbeat about Aging, But Some Are Uncertain about Long-Term Outlook for their Health and Finances
- Survey reveals seniors and baby boomers expect their lives to improve as they grow older.
- A significant minority of respondents feel less secure: about one in four report trouble with current monthly living expenses; one-third say they will not be able to afford future long-term care services; and 72% of those who make less than $30,000 per year live with a chronic health condition.
- Perceptions of community services for older Americans vary; boomers are less confident than older respondents that their community will provide the services they need to maintain health and independence.
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% of respondents say the past year of their lives has been normal or better than normal, and more than 75% 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 today’s 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% have no financial plan for retirement. Among those respondents making less than $30,000 a year, 41% 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 community’s ability to meet their needs as they age. Of the total sample, 40% 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 they age.
Many Older Americans Expect Their Health to Improve
Many of today’s seniors are strongly optimistic about what the future holds for their health. More than 25% 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% of boomers ages 60-64; 70% of those ages 65-69; 66% of respondents ages 70 and older).
A large majority of seniors give themselves high marks when it comes to maintaining their health: 92% say they manage stress very well or somewhat well, and 84% say they are confident that they will be able to do what is needed to maintain their health over the next five to 10 years.
The percentage of respondents who exercise or engage in regular physical activity to maintain their health is considerably lower. Just over half (52%) 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% are never physically active.
“It’s encouraging that so many of our survey respondents feel confident and empowered to maintain their health as they age, but it’s important that this positive mindset doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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% of respondents are not confident in their ability to pay. When asked about their retirement savings, 8% 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%) 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% vs. 52%) and are less apt to engage in physical activity – 53% 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 NCOA’s 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%) 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%) and enjoyment (70%) as their top reasons to stay in the workforce.
Older Americans Who Aspire to “Age in Place” Must Plan for Physical, Financial Needs
“Aging in place,” defined as the ability to stay in one’s home or current living situation in the years ahead, is the preference of about 90% 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% 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% 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 today’s market, and 26% 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% 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%) 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 or www.ncoa.org/UnitedStatesofAging.