The life expectancy of Americans at age 65 has been rising. Between 1992 and 2008, life expectancy at age 65 climbed from 17.5 to 18.8 years—a gain of 1.3 years. Even better, all of the gain was in disability-free years, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research analysis of data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.
In 1991-94, the 17.5 years of life remaining to a 65-year-old was about equally split between disability-free years (8.9) and years of disability (8.6). By 2006-2009, disability-free years of life remaining had expanded to 10.7, and disabled years had fallen to 8.1.
What accounts for this longer, healthier life? Fully 63 percent of the increase is due to fewer deaths and less disability from two health conditions, say the researchers: cardiovascular disease and vision problems. The improvement in these conditions is due in part to changing social factors, such as rising educational attainment, and due in part to better medical treatment. The researchers calculate that 15 percent of the overall increase in disability-free life expectancy is due to better medical treatment of cardiovascular disease. Five percent of the overall increase is due to cataract surgery.
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Understanding the Improvement in Disability Free Life Expectancy in the U.S. Elderly Population, NBER Working Paper 22306