The vast majority of older New Yorkers have enough food, can hear and see without trouble, and can bathe and dress themselves and walk or climb stairs without a struggle. Very few of them smoke or binge drink, and only a sliver report the symptoms of depression.
And, yes, more than one in three New Yorkers over age 65 had one or more sex partners in the past year.
Yet a sizable 43 percent of New York’s growing senior population says they have general health problems, while an alarming 65 percent report high blood pressure and a third didn’t get a flu shot this year. Most older New Yorkers do not exercise even 90 minutes per week.
Such are the results of a survey released Thursday by the city’s Department for the Health and Mental Hygiene that assesses the health of the million people aged 65 or older who now live in New York – a demographic group that is expected to grow to 1.4 million by 2040.
A population that large is no monolith. Senior New York is split just about evenly between U.S.-born and foreign-born people, with 40 percent having had some college and a racial breakdown that skews Whiter and less Latino than the city as a whole (32 percent of the city is Non-Hispanic White, but 44 percent of older New Yorkers are). Two thirds of seniors speak English well, three-fifths are women and only one in 33 older New Yorkers identifies as lesbian or gay.
The report reveals that getting older can look and feel very different depending on nationality, race or income. Foreign-born seniors are more likely to live in poverty than their native-born peers (25 percent vs. 17 percent). Whites are twice as likely to live alone as Asians (38 percent vs. 14 percent). Older people who live below the federal poverty line are significantly more likely to be caring for a child under the age of 18 than the wealthiest older New Yorkers (27 percent vs. 17 percent). Asian seniors are twice as likely to die from falls as Latino seniors. More than half of Black seniors (53 percent) have lost six or more teeth, compared with 39 percent of Latinos and 31 percent of Whites.
Evidence of a functioning social safety net is seen in the fact that, despite an overall 21 percent poverty rate for seniors, 93 percent of seniors reported feeling “food secure” and only 6 percent reported going without needed medical care in the past year. But the impact of poverty on health is still evident: hospitalization rates for older people suffering from dementia were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods.
The “aging” population, of course, encompasses people in their mid-60s as well as folks nearing the century mark, and DOHMH’s research makes clear that the aging experience depends greatly on how long it lasts. While 81 percent of people aged 65 to 74 can walk or climb stairs without struggling, only 41 percent of those 85 or older can. Only 7 percent of younger seniors cannot bathe or dress themselves, but 39 percent of those 85 or older cannot.
All in all, DOHMH’s research illustrates the complexity of serving New York’s seniors as that population swells: While there are certainly common concerns, different populations within aging New York have vastly different needs.
Read it here.