Why So Many Older Americans Rate Their Health as Good or Even Excellent

Jun 28, 2019 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

A common myth about aging is that older adults are burdened by illness and feel lousy much of the time. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Most seniors report feeling distinctly positive about their health, according to data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey.

When asked to rate their overall health, 82% of adults ages 65-74 described it as excellent (18%), very good (32%) or good (32%)—on the positive side of the ledger. By contrast, 18% of this age group had a negative perspective, describing their health as fair (14%) or poor (4%). This trend toward positivity is also evident among adults age 75 and older: 73% of this group said their health was excellent (12%), very good (28%) or good (33%), while only 27% gave a fair (20%) or poor (7%) evaluation.

How could this be true when the majority of older adults—about 60%—have two or more chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease or kidney disease, and higher rates of physical impairment than other age groups?

The answer lies in how older adults think about their health. For many, good health means more than the lack of illness or disability. The components of health they tend to value more are vitality, emotional well-being, positive social relationships, remaining active and satisfaction with life, while poor physical functioning plays a less important role. Lest you think older adults’ bias toward positivity is a sign of denial or a lack of objectivity, a large body of research shows it’s highly meaningful. “Self-rated health is very strongly predictive of longevity” as well as other outcomes such as cognitive health and use of health care services, notes one expert.

You can find the rest of this article at Kaiser Health News.

 

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