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California

L.A. seniors confident about aging, yet many don’t manage health

Ninety percent of Los Angeles seniors are confident they will keep up the quality of their lives as they age, a new survey shows. Yet experts warn that only a fraction are taking steps to manage their health.

For many seniors battling chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, “they’re gliding toward a very distressing future,” said Richard Birkel, senior vice president for health at the National Council on Aging, which helped conduct the survey. If seniors don’t take action, “they will see their world begin to shrink.”

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Researchers surveyed 4,000 adults nationwide this year about how they felt about aging and their futures, including a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 seniors and thousands more from disadvantaged groups or rapidly graying areas such as Indianapolis and Los Angeles.

Seniors will make up nearly a fifth of the Los Angeles County population by 2030, according to USC projections.

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Seventy percent of Los Angeles seniors said they had at least two chronic conditions, more than the national average, the survey showed. Yet nearly half of Los Angeles seniors surveyed said they didn’t set any health goals in the last year. Less than a fourth received help with a health “action plan.”

“They don’t think they can do anything about their high blood pressure” or diabetes symptoms, said Laura Trejo, general manager of the city of Los Angeles Department of Aging. “That’s concerning because there are a lot of things that seniors can be doing.”

Such goals could be as simple as eating less fried food or taking more walks. For seniors fending off more than one chronic condition, planning around such goals should be the norm, Birkel said.

Experts fear that the modest share of seniors taking steps to ensure their health belies their overwhelming optimism about staying well. In Los Angeles and nationwide, nearly 3 of 4 thought their health would stay the same or get better in the next five to 10 years.

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“Is all that positivity a good thing?” asked Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement. UnitedHealthcare partnered with the National Council of Aging and USA Today on the survey. “Or does it mean we’re not preparing for the future?”

Despite their optimism, Los Angeles seniors still have many worries. Nearly half fret that their savings and income won’t last their entire lives. Compared to seniors across the country, elderly people in Los Angeles are more likely to feel isolated or worry that their community isn’t responsive enough to seniors, the survey found.

Researchers and nonprofits that work with seniors say that the challenges of navigating Los Angeles without a car — as well as the added isolation that aging immigrants may feel — could be behind those survey results. Better transportation and more affordable housing topped survey respondents’ list of how Los Angeles could better support seniors.

Trouble getting around “prevents them from going shopping or visiting a friend,” said Orlando David Estrada, a senior active at St. Barnabas Senior Services in Mid-City.

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Los Angeles’ steep cost of living could also be at play, forcing poorer seniors to relocate somewhere unfamiliar to them, St. Barnabas President and Chief Executive Rigo Saborio said. Other seniors may stay rooted in one place, but find their neighborhood changing around them.

emily.alpert@latimes.com


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