Senior men close age gapWomen still live longer than men on average, but males are catching up in the longevity race, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.
By: Colleen Diskin, McClatchy Tribune
Women still live longer than men on average, but males are catching up in the longevity race, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday.
Nationally, the population of men older than 65 grew by about twice the rate as women in the same age group, the 2010 census found.
More significantly, the population of men older than 85 — a milestone that’s still a decade older than the average male’s life expectancy in the U.S. — experienced the largest percentage increase among all age brackets in the country. From 2000 to 2010, the number of men in that age group increased from 1.2 million to 1.8 million — double the national growth rate for women.
“More men are reaching those older ages,” said Carrie Werner, a statistician with the Census Bureau’s age and special populations branch. “They are starting to close the gap with women.”
Doctors and health officials say men are living longer because they are taking better care of themselves.
“We’ve definitely seen a change in the culture and attitudes men have about their health,” said Dr. Lisa Tank, chief of geriatrics at Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center, and director of the Center for Healthy Senior Living.
The most recent life-expectancy stats also show the gender gap in aging is narrowing.
Nationally, the most recent life-expectancy estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the average for men at 75.7 years and women at 80.6. Men gained an extra 1.6 years of life between 2000 and 2009, while women gained 1.3 years.
Werner said the increasing number of older men played a large role in the overall increase of the country’s senior citizen population, which grew to 40.3 million in 2010. She expects the gap will only continue to narrow now that the more health-conscious baby boom generation is beginning to reach the Social Security rolls.
As one reason for the growing ranks of elderly men, Tank cites the medical community’s “more aggressive counseling” on preventative medicine and healthier lifestyles. Because more men eat better, exercise more and quit smoking in their midlife they arrive at their senior years in better shape than in past decades.
In addition, preventative medicine at age 70 and beyond has improved dramatically, with more physicians and patients understanding the need to screen older men for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, depression and other illnesses that can quickly cause a health decline.
“In the past what used to happen when you went to a primary care doctor at age 70 is that any problem you were having you were told it was because you’re old,” Tate said. “Now we’re doing more preventive health and encouraging older men to be screened more.”
Historically, men have not been as conditioned to screening for illnesses they are prone to get, such as prostate cancer, as women are about breast and ovarian cancer, said Salvatore J. Giorgianni, medical and science adviser of Men’s Health Network, a national advocacy group.
“Men have to take a page out of the women’s health-care book, and we are seeing more of them doing that,” Giorgianni said. “This is great news to hear that the population of older men is increasing.”
The increasing numbers of elderly men is changing the nature of long-term care, Tate said.
To encourage more men to remain social and active — two primary contributors to better health in later years — Tate said more nursing homes and assisted living centers have changed the programs they offer.
“Men don’t want bingo,” Tate said. “They want things like carpentry and clockmaking.”