ANN ARBOR, Mich., March 18 (UPI) -- After age 65, women live longer than men, but a new study found the extra years are spent dealing with more disabilities than men.
Life expectancy for Americans has grown in the last 30 years -- men have gained about five years, while women picked up two -- but as women continue to outlive men, researchers at the University of Michigan and Syracuse University say more attention needs to be paid to conditions women deal with later in life.
Researchers say its a reversal of fortune for both men and women, as men have gained in life expectancy and the number of years they can live independently, whereas women's life expectancy has increased much less and the number of years they live without disability has been stagnant since the early 1980s.
"Older men have been living longer and experiencing disability at later ages than they used to, while older women have experienced smaller increases in life expectancy and even smaller postponements in disability," Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said in a press release. "As a result, older women no longer can expect to live more active years than older men, despite their longer lives."
For the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analyzed data collected in 1982 and 2004 as part of the National Long Term Care Survey and in 2011 for the National Health and Aging Trends Study, estimating age-specific rates of mortality and disability, chances of surviving with and without disability, and years of active life for men and women.
The researchers found that, from age 65, men's life expectancy increased by more than four years while women only gained 1.4 years. The researchers said the differences were even greater when looking at 85-year-olds, where men's 4.5 extra active years is nearly double what it was in 1982, while women get the same 2.5 years without disability.
While the researchers point to several reasons for women's stagnation in gaining years on life, they said the greater likelihood of arthritis, falls, depression and dementia diseases among women requires more research and awareness.
"Just a few decades ago, older women used to live more years than men without needing help taking care of themselves or managing basic household activities," Freedman said. "But that does not appear to be the case anymore."