In Later Years, Disabilities End Blacks’ Active Lives Sooner Than Whites’

Black Americans age 65 and older enjoy shorter active lives than whites do and more of their late years are swallowed up by disabilities and unmet needs, researchers have found.

The disparity is widest for elderly black women, a group that has seen no gains since the early 1980s in either the number of remaining years of active life — meaning old age free of disabilities — or the percentage of remaining life expected to be active, according to a study published Monday in Health Affairs.

Life expectancy rose for both blacks and whites from 1982 to 2011, but the improved quality of those lives after age 65 differed based on race, the researchers concluded after reviewing several years of federal health surveys.

“Active life expectancy tells you not just how long people are living, but how well people are living,” said Vicki Freedman, an author of the study and a research professor at the University of Michigan.

Older whites avoided disabilities until later ages — their life expectancy increased just slightly more than active life expectancy. Black seniors’ extended longevity unfolded with shorter delays in disability. Their gain in survival was twice as large as the increase in survival without disability, according to the study.


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