FROM THE ARCHIVE
Elder care study shows worsening problems
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THURSDAY, JULY 11, 2002

American Indians and Alaska Natives can expect tougher lives, high rates of chronic disease and lack of adequate care as they grow older, according to a new nationwide study.

Research performed by the University of North Dakota presents a disparate health care system affecting Native elders. Based on data collected from over 80 tribes and 8,500 individual respondents, problems are only getting worse.

Life expectancy of Native elders ranges from a low of 64.3 years to a high of 76.3 years, the school found. Regional variances were noted, with Plains tribes having the worst rate, according to the research.

In either case, American Indian and Alaska Native elders are behind the rest of the country. The average life expectancy for the general population is 76.9 years, according to the research.

Despite the shorter life cycle, Indian Country is more susceptible to chronic diseases, the study found. For example, Native elders are 19.5 percent more likely than the general population to experience arthritis, 48.7 percent more likely to experience congestive heart failure, 17.7 percent more likely to report high blood pressure, 17.5 percent more likely to have experienced stroke, 44.3 percent more likely to report asthma and 173 percent more likely to be afflicted with diabetes.

Only cataracts, an eye condition, were higher in the general population, Leander McDonald of UND's National Resource Center on Native American Aging told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs yesterday.

"So, the Native elder is sicker from chronic disease," he said, "but is at least able to see a little better than their U.S. general counterparts."

Compounding the problem, added Richard Ludtke, the director of the center, is a lack of long-term care options for Indian Country. "As the population ages," he said, "there will be an increased need for long term care services."

By age 85, according to the research, Native elders are plagued with "moderately severe" and "severe" conditions. Health providers should expect a 51 percent increase in these two status categories by 2010, the school said.

The one positive noted was that life expectancy will increase over the years. But researchers said this will strain services because a larger group of Native elders will need them.

Yesterday's hearing was the first many could recall on elder care issues. Once revered in tribal culture, other witnesses testified that elder abuse and neglect is often the norm these days.

"Times are still very hard for Indian elders," said Dave Baldridge, executive director of the National Indian Council on Aging.

Relevant Documents:
Written Witness Testimony (7/10)

Relevant Links:
National Resource Center on Native American Aging - http://www.und.edu/dept/nrcnaa
National Indian Council on Aging - http://www.nicoa.org

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