The University Record, December 5, 1995

More than half of the very old work in their yards;over one-third do volunteer work, grow and freeze their own food, study shows

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Americans age 70 and older remain surprisingly productive, according to a study presented Nov. 18 at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in Los Angeles.

About 34 percent of nearly 900 older Americans surveyed grow and freeze their own food, nearly 28 percent still do some home repairs and nearly 56 percent still do some of their own yard work.

One-third do some kind of volunteer work, 42 percent help others with transportation and nearly 21 percent provide child care for others.

The study of productive activities among the very old, conducted by Institute of Gerontology researchers Susan Merrill and Lois Verbrugge, is part of a much larger study of the physical, emotional, social, mental and financial health of older Americans.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging and conducted by the Institute for Social Research (ISR), the survey of Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) was conducted using a population-based sample of nearly 8,000 Americans age 70 and older. All were living in the community, not in nursing homes or other institutional settings, and all were interviewed in person or by telephone between October 1993 and May 1994. The researc hers hope to interview the same people several more times to analyze changes in their condition.

For the current study, Merrill and Verbrugge analyzed the relationship between chronic illnesses and disability using data from the full survey, and used data from a sub-sample of nearly 900 people to analyze which factors were most significant in those who remained productive.

They found that nearly 12 percent have trouble walking, nearly 24 percent have trouble climbing stairs and about 17 percent need help doing their grocery shopping. The seven conditions most associated with disabilities, they found, are stroke, pain, diabetes, arthritis, incontinence, poor vision and hip fracture.

The conditions most likely to be linked with productivity, on the other hand, were good vision, lack of pain and continence.

Co-principal investigators of the AHEAD study are F. Thomas Juster and Robert Willis, both senior research scientists at ISR and professors of economics.