JOURNAL ARTICLE

Surveillance for morbidity and mortality among older adults—United States, 1995-1996

M M Desai, P Zhang, C H Hennessy
MMWR. CDC Surveillance Summaries: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. CDC Surveillance Summaries 1999 December 17, 48 (8): 7-25
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PROBLEM/CONDITION: During the twenty first century, growth in the number of older adults (persons aged > or =65 years) in the United States will produce an unprecedented increase in the number of persons at risk for costly age-associated chronic diseases and other health conditions and injuries.

REPORTING PERIOD: 1995-1996.

DESCRIPTION OF SYSTEMS: This report uses data from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) to report on leading causes of death in 1996 (from the National Vital Statistics System), major causes of hospitalization (1996 National Hospital Discharge Survey [NHDSI), and major chronic conditions (1995 National Health Interview Survey [NHIS]). The National Vital Statistics System compiles information regarding all death certificates filed in the United States. NHDS is an annual probability sample of discharges from nonfederal, short-stay hospitals. NHIS is an ongoing annual cross-sectional household survey of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population. In addition, health-care expenditures for older adults are examined by using information obtained from published reports from the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and health-services literature.

RESULTS: The leading causes of death among adults aged > or =65 years were heart disease (1,808 deaths/100,000 population), malignant neoplasms (1,131/100,000), and cerebrovascular disease (415/100,000). Several leading causes of mortality among older adults differed by race, with deaths caused by Alzheimer's disease more frequent among whites and deaths caused by diabetes, kidney diseases, septicemia, and hypertension more frequent among blacks. Rates of hospitalization and length of hospital stays increased with age. Hospitalizations for heart disease represented the highest proportion of all discharges among older adults (23%). Discharge rates for malignant neoplasms, stroke, and pneumonia were similar for adults aged > or =65 years and, as with heart disease, were higher for men than for women. However, the rate of hospitalization for fractures among women exceeded the rate among men. Arthritis was the most prevalent chronic condition among adults aged > or =65 years (48.9/100 adults), followed by hypertension (40.3/100) and heart disease (28.6/100). In 1995, adults aged > or =65 years comprised 13% of the population but accounted for 35% of total personal health care dollars spent ($310 billion), and real per capita personal health-care expenditure for this age group increased at an average annual rate of 5.8% during 1985-1995. Projections for future medical expenditures for older adults vary; however, all project substantial increases after the year 2000. Hip fracture, dementia, and urinary incontinence are discussed as examples of prevalent and costly health conditions among older adults that differ in potential for prevention. These conditions were selected because they result in substantial medical and social costs and they differ in potential for prevention.

INTERPRETATION: The higher prevalence of serious and costly health conditions among adults aged > or =65 years highlights the importance of implementing preventive health measures in this population.

PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIONS: Data regarding causes of morbidity, mortality, and health-care expenditures among older adults provide information for measuring the effectiveness of public health efforts to reduce modifiable risk factors for morbidity and mortality in this population.

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