This is an interesting summary of trends in aging in the US. Part of the reason for less disabling aging is the involvement of people in their medical and health decisions [see also Preventive health care in elderly people needs rethinking], technology (from microwave ovens to walkers), smokers died before now and quitters started quitting awhile ago, availability of surgery from eyes to knees, older people exercise more than in the past, changes in attitude towards aging capabilities (changing expectataions of older people by older people and others. Off those rockers!), better availability of foods, etc.
Frank Greve of McClatchy Newspapers says, “The remarkable thing about National Public Radio senior news analyst Daniel Schorr, 91, who only recently gave up tennis, and Landrum Bolling, 94, the globe-trotting director at large for the relief agency Mercy Corps, is the same: They aren’t as remarkable as you’d think they are.
A surprising decline in disability rates among older Americans since the 1980s is enabling millions more to lead longer, richer, spryer lives. … older Americans typically are disability-free for the roughly 10 months of life expectancy that were added from 1992 to 2003.
…According to Dr. Eileen Crimmins, a professor of gerontology and sociology at the University of Southern California, 25 percent of Hispanic and black Americans older than 65 need help with basic tasks. For whites, the rate is 17 percent. Differences in disability rates linked to income and education also persist, Crimmins and others have found, and while women live longer than men, they endure more disabilities. [...]