FRIDAY, Nov. 11, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Age-related declines in physical health occur more rapidly among poorer Americans, according to a new study.
"The more income and assets you have, the slower your health decline will be," co-author Virginia Richardson, a professor of social work at Ohio State University, said in a university news release.
The researchers analyzed data from roughly 6,500 participants in the Health Retirement Study, which included people older than 50 who were followed for 12 years, from 1994 to 2006.
When the study began, participants with more income and assets had less trouble with five activities of daily living -- bathing, eating, dressing, getting in and out of bed, and walking across a room -- than poorer participants.
This health gap between the two economic groups increased as the participants grew older.
"The rich stay healthier, while the poor see steeper declines in their health as they age," Richardson said.
She and her colleagues also found that people with private health insurance had less trouble with the five activities of daily living than those without private insurance and that this gap also increased over time.
The study was recently published online in the journal Health and Social Care in the Community.
The ability to do basic physical tasks is essential for older adults to take care of themselves without requiring a caregiver, Richardson noted.
"When people can no longer bathe themselves or cook for themselves, that's when they need to be institutionalized," she said.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers healthy aging tips.