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Baby Boomers to Swell Ranks of Arthritic-Ridden

June 23, 1994

ATLANTA (AP) _ The generation whose members once claimed that time was on their side, that they hoped to die before they got old, will swell the ranks of arthritis sufferers in their golden years, a study says.

Baby boomers, by their sheer numbers, create health trends. And by the year 2020, they’ll cause the number of Americans with aching hips, knotted knuckles and painful knees to soar to 59.4 million, or nearly one out of five people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted Thursday.

Although the number afflicted will jump almost 57 percent from the 38 million affected in 1990, the prevalence of the disease will remain about the same, edging up from 15 percent in 1990 to 18.2 percent three decades later, the CDC estimated. The figures were based on a national health survey of 356,592 people.

″Arthritis is a very common problem and it causes a fair amount of disability,″ said Dr. Chad Helmick, chief epidemiologist of the CDC’s Aging Studies Branch. ″And it’s going to be an even greater problem in the year 2020.″

The CDC prediction comes as the average age of the U.S. population is on the rise. In addition to arthritis, other illnesses will see the same increase, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension, Helmick said.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among those over 65, according to the CDC. It limits major activities such as working or housekeeping among about 3 percent of all Americans and about 12 percent of those 65 or older.

Arthritis can’t be prevented, but its severity or pain can be reduced by regular exercise and watching one’s weight.

″Make sure you exercise, eat right and get plenty of rest,″ said Geri Wyatt, a 34-year-old woman with arthritis from Garland, Texas, who leads a support group for young adults with the joint disease. ″It’s very important to remain active to maintain your range of motion.″

Huge numbers of Americans with arthritis will have numerous implications, particularly for the 21st century workplace as aging baby boomers work longer, Helmick said.

″I’m part of the baby boom generation and I don’t expect to retire at age 65,″ he said. ″This could affect the type of work I can do.″

Those who can’t work, or can’t work as well, will add to the burden arthritis places on nation’s economy, according to the Arthritis Foundation, which estimates that the current cost of the disease is $54 billion a year in medical care and lost wages.

″Arthritis already is taking a heavy toll on our nation’s health,″ foundation president Don Riggin said. ″The aging baby boomers will make arthritis an even more pervasive disease extracting a devastating toll on the future unless we take action now to limit its impact.″

The foundation called for increased research funding to find better treatments. It also encouraged boomers to get exercise, watch their weight and avoid injuring their joints to lower their risk of arthritis.