Inaugural United States of Aging Survey Finds Most Older Adults Upbeat about Aging, but Some Are Uncertain about Long-Term Outlook for Their Health and Finances

A new survey from the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare

and USA TODAY finds that most older Americans feel their best years are

still to come, but not all are prepared for the health and financial

challenges of aging.

Close to 70 percent of respondents say the past year of their lives has

been normal or better than normal, and more than 75 percent of seniors

ages 60-69 expect their quality of life to stay the same or get better

over the next five to 10 years.

Seniors’ positive outlook confirms the many improvements that have

resulted in greater longevity and quality of life for older Americans,

who are enjoying a level of health and security unknown to their parents

and grandparents. Many aging experts, however, contend that today’s

seniors face challenges unlike those experienced by previous

generations, particularly in living with long-term chronic health

conditions and the need for longer-term financial security.

The survey also found that advances in senior wellness and security have

not been universal, due in part to a lack of awareness of programs and

services that can support older adults. Fifteen percent of surveyed

seniors say they are not confident their finances will last through

their retirement years, and 8 percent have no financial plan for

retirement. Among those respondents making less than $30,000 a year, 41

percent say they are unaware of all the benefits and programs that could

help meet their needs.

UnitedHealthcare, NCOA and USA TODAY surveyed 2,250 U.S. adults age 60

or older for the inaugural United States of Aging Survey to examine

seniors’ outlook and preparedness for aging. The survey focused both on

individual readiness for aging as well as seniors’ perceptions of their

community’s ability to meet their needs as they age. Of the total

sample, 40 percent have low to moderate incomes – making $30,000 or less

per year – similar to the U.S. population.

The survey was conducted as part of an ongoing partnership between

UnitedHealthcare and NCOA to help older adults as well as their families

and caregivers identify and overcome the challenges they might face as

they age.

Many Older Americans Expect Their Health to


Many of today’s seniors are strongly optimistic about what the future

holds for their health. More than 25 percent of Americans ages 65 to 69

say their health is better than normal, and the vast majority of all age

groups expect their health to get better or stay about the same over the

next five to 10 years (75 percent of boomers ages 60-64; 70 percent of

those ages 65-69; 66 percent of respondents ages 70 and older).

A large majority of seniors give themselves high marks when it comes to

maintaining their health: 92 percent say they manage stress very well or

somewhat well, and 84 percent say they are confident that they will be

able to do what is needed to maintain their health over the next five to

10 years.

The percentage of respondents who exercise or engage in regular physical

activity to maintain their health is considerably lower. Just over half

(52 percent) of the surveyed seniors say they exercise or are physically

active at least four days per week, with another quarter indicating they

are active one to three days per week. About one in 10 respondents

reported that their exercise or physical activity is limited to just a

few days each month, and 11 percent are never physically active.

“It’s encouraging that so many of our survey respondents feel confident

and empowered to maintain their health as they age, but it’s important

that this positive mindset doesn’t prevent them from taking the

necessary steps to counter the epidemic of obesity among our senior

population, such as exercising most days of the week to help maintain a

healthy weight,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer,

UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement.

“With appropriate preventive care and lifestyle changes, growing older

doesn’t have to mean living with chronic diseases and disability. By

conducting this survey annually, we hope to better understand the

reality of aging in America so that individuals, communities and health

care providers will be ready to meet the needs of a rapidly growing

senior population,” said Randall.

The Most Vulnerable Seniors Are the Least

Confident in Their Future Health and Security

While the majority of survey respondents feel financially secure, a

significant minority face the possibility of severe financial hardship.

Nearly a quarter of respondents have difficulty paying their monthly

living expenses, and one in five seniors is one major financial event

away from a fiscal crisis. If they were to incur an unexpected expense,

19 percent of respondents are not confident in their ability to pay.

When asked about their retirement savings, 8 percent of respondents

report they have no financial plan whatsoever.

Concerns about financial instability are most pronounced among low- and

moderate-income survey respondents. Nearly half of this group (46

percent) is not confident that their income will be sufficient to meet

their monthly expenses over the next five to 10 years.

A third of survey respondents feel financially unprepared for the costs

of long-term care. Further, seniors who are most likely to need

long-term care – those of low and moderate income and with chronic

conditions – are also the least confident they will be able to afford it.

Low- and moderate-income seniors are also more likely to report having a

chronic health condition (72 percent vs. 52 percent) and are less apt to

engage in physical activity – 53 percent report exercising once a week

or less. This group is twice as likely to lack confidence in their

ability to manage their heath over the next five to 10 years.

“The most vulnerable older adults, who are also most in need of health

care, economic help and support services to remain independent and ‘age

in place,’ are the least confident they will be able to get the help

they need,” said Rick Birkel, Ph.D., acting senior vice president,

healthy aging, and director of the NCOA’s Self-Management Alliance. “But

even small increases in benefits, reduced-cost services or reduced

expenses can go a long way in helping vulnerable seniors remain

independent. We hope that this yearly survey will help lead communities

to educate older adults about programs and services that can improve

their overall quality of life.”

Of the one in five seniors over the age of 65 who are still employed

either full or part time, the majority (69 percent) say they are still

working to bring in household income, but their decision is not driven

solely by the need for money. Working seniors also cite productivity (76

percent) and enjoyment (70 percent) as their top reasons to stay in the


Older Americans Who Aspire to “Age in Place”

Must Plan for Physical, Financial Needs

“Aging in place,” defined as the ability to stay in one’s home or

current living situation in the years ahead, is the preference of about

90 percent of survey respondents who say they intend to continue living

in their current home for the next five to 10 years. Of this group, 85

percent are confident in their ability to do so without making any

significant modifications to their home.

Aging in place should be attainable for most “young-old” seniors in

their 60s, but boomers planning for their retirement would be wise to

consider their likely need for support as they age into their 70s, 80s

and beyond. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents between the ages of

60 and 69 report that they find it very easy to live independently, but

that percentage drops to 43 percent for respondents ages 70 and older.

Nearly two in 10 Americans ages 70 and older say they either cannot live

independently and accomplish daily tasks without assistance from

caregivers or community resources or find it difficult to do so.

Seniors planning to stay in their homes cite not wanting to move out of

a home they like and a desire to stay close to friends and family as the

top motivators behind their choice. But current economic realities are

also a factor: nearly a quarter of respondents who plan to stay in their

current home do not believe they can sell it in today’s market, and 26

percent say they cannot afford the cost of moving their belongings.

Many Baby Boomers Are Not Confident Their

Communities Will Help Them Age Successfully

The majority of survey respondents are satisfied with the resources and

services in their community that can help them lead a healthy and

independent lifestyle. But with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day

for the next decade, it is likely those resources will be under

increasing strain. More than a quarter of boomer respondents in their

60s say they are not confident that their community will have all of the

resources and services they need to help them be healthy and independent

over the next five to 10 years.

Among the community limitations boomers may contend with is lack of

safe, reliable public transportation. Only half of the survey

respondents feel their community offers a high-quality public

transportation service. More than half of seniors strongly agree they

feel safe walking in their communities. Close to 60 percent never walk

to places they regularly need to go.

Seniors report mixed feelings about the impact their community has on

their health. Half of respondents indicated their community helps them

live a happy and healthy life, but nearly as many (42 percent) said

their community has no bearing on their health or happiness.

To access full survey findings, including results for seniors in Dallas,

Miami, Milwaukee, Orange County, Calif., and upstate New York, visit the

newsroom at


About the Survey

Penn Schoen Berland conducted 2,250 telephone interviews with Americans

ages 60 and older between May 10 and June 6, 2012. This included a

nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents, and oversamples

of 250 respondents in upstate New York, Milwaukee, Miami, Dallas and

Orange County, Calif. The margin of error for the general population is

+/-3.1 percent and 6.2 percent for each of the oversamples. The data is

reflective of the U.S. Census Bureau demographic statistics in terms of

gender, age, ethnicity, income, education and region.

About NCOA

The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy

organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. NCOA is a national voice

for millions of older adults – especially those who are vulnerable and

disadvantaged – and the community organizations that serve them. It

brings together nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government to

develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults.

NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help

seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live

independently, and remain active in their communities. For more

information, please visit:



About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealthcare (

is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by

simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and

wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care

providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit

programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid

beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians

and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare

serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and

well-being company.