American Indian elder health: critical information for researchers and policymakers

American Indian elder health: critical information for researchers and policymakers

American Indian elders are on the crest of a chronic disease epidemic

The elderly population (age 55 and older) among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) is projected to increase from 5.5% of the total U.S. AIAN population in 1990 to 12.6% in 2050. Many are failing to participate in health insurance programmes. The shifting demographic profile of the population calls for focused attention on the health status of AIAN elders.

This overview on health disparities looks at specific factors affecting the AIAN population and highlights areas of concern:

  • more American Indian elders reside in California than any other state. There are over 100 federally recognised tribes in California
  • AIAN elders in California are two to three times more likely to be poor or low-income than (non-Latino) whites
  • American Indian Elders age 55-64 are on a crest of a chronic disease epidemic: almost one-third  have been diagnosed with diabetes, the highest prevalence of any racial group. Diabetes is associated with  health conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke - conditions also disproportionately experienced by older AIANs
  • cancer screening rates are low - more than one-quarter of AIAN women age 55-64 have not had a cervical cancer screening in the last three or more years. Almost one- quarter  of AIAN women age 55 and older have not had a mammography in over two years
  • behavioral risk factors are strongly influenced by social/economic conditions and are related to the following health disparities: Almost one in five are current tobacco smokers, twice the rate of whites. AIAN males age 55-64 report heavy alcohol use at twice the rate of whites. One-third are obese.
  • one in five AIAN elders age 65 years and older have had multiple falls in the past year, the highest prevalence of any racial group
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