Falls, disability and hunger are surprisingly common aspects of life for California seniors, according to a new policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. More than one out of five California seniors experience one or more of these issues, which, separate from medical conditions often related to aging, present significant challenges to independent living.
According to the brief, nearly 12 percent of Californians age 65 and older have fallen more than once in the previous year; nearly 7 percent have some disability that requires special assistance for simple tasks such as eating, dressing or bathing; and 20 percent of low-income seniors consistently cannot afford to buy food.
"Falls, disabilities and food insecurity are each, to an extent, preventable," said Steven P. Wallace, lead author of the brief and associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. "Policies and programs that help individuals address these issues can have a tremendous impact on the ability of older Californians to live independently longer."
The policy brief uses data from the 2003 California Health Interview Survey and represents the first time that this prevalence data has been available on California's senior citizens. The complete brief is available for download at www.healthpolicy.ucla.edu.
Other findings in the brief include:
· Seniors who experience one of these challenges have an increased chance of experiencing others. For example, older Californians with disabilities are three times more likely to report multiple falls and have higher rates of food insecurity.
· Falls, disability and hunger affect the poor disproportionately. For example, nearly 18 percent of seniors living below the poverty line will experience one or more falls in a year, compared with less than 9 percent of those living at or above 300 percent FPL.
· These issues also affect minorities disproportionately. For example, 12.5 percent of African American seniors have a personal-care disability, compared with only 6.2 percent of white seniors. Among low-income seniors, 29 percent of African Americans and 27 percent of Latinos experience food insecurity, compared with 11.6 percent of white seniors.
"This report alerts us to significant challenges to the health and lives of California's seniors," said Gary L. Yates, president and chief executive officer of the California Wellness Foundation, which provided funding for the policy brief. "With the state's elderly population expected to increase dramatically over the next several decades, both in numbers and diversity, time is of the essence for all of us to address these and other health issues impacting our seniors."
The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research was established in 1994 and is one of the nation's leading health policy research centers. It is also the premier source of health policy information for California. The center is based in the UCLA School of Public Health and is affiliated with the UCLA School of Public Affairs.