Statistics regarding health and wellness in the United States are listed everywhere on the Internet. Looking for solid information on the state of aging in this country can be difficult, though.
This is true for several reasons. For one, scientific studies often include necessarily small populations. For another, case studies do not reliably indicate far-reaching problems.
Combining many sources to get the bigger picture doesn’t work either. Large groups of statistics can be hard to combine or compare because each study providing statistics has different methods or measures different things. Yet help is on the way.
A federal interagency report entitled “Older Americans 2016: Key Indicators of Well-Being” gives the “big picture” on aging in America. In the report, the United States government compiled highlights from the target areas of Population, Economics, Health Status, Health Risks and Behaviors, Health Care, and Environment. This year’s report also includes information on “informal caregiving”—a situation that affects many Americans.
Below are the five trends that characterized aging in America in 2016.
The Aging Population Grew
This oft-repeated fact is noted in everything from Huffington Post op-eds to academic journals. Yet it sometimes seems unreal without numbers. Per this report, 46 million Americans were over the age of 65 in the year 2014. This accounts for 15% of the entire population. What’s more, this number is projected to rise exponentially.
Why is this important? It affects everything from the healthcare system to social structures to voting patterns. Considering that seniors exist in large numbers, that they are living longer than ever before, and that they hope to have a good quality of life as they age, much will be impacted by the aging American population.
Issues relating to seniors matter more than ever as the impact of this growing population continues to be felt.The demand for affordable, safe, multigenerational housing for families including aging loved ones will affect the housing industry. Get-out-the-vote efforts must provide transportation for seniors who find it difficult to get to the ballot box. Political conversations about healthcare and budgets must consider Medicare and Medicaid. Services provided for elderly veterans are also affected (and thus all veterans are too).
Poverty among the Aging Decreased
Fortunately, the report found that seniors are less likely to live in poverty than in the past. This has been especially true as the United States recovers from the 2008 recession. Only 10% of the current older population lives in poverty. However, that number is still far too high. One of every ten people over 65 lives below the poverty line. This has particularly dangerous implications as the number of seniors grows. Those millions of people face challenges such as paying for necessary healthcare, accessing reliable transportation, and affording the basic needs for survival. Many of these people rely on Social Security funding to live. This makes discussions about the life and validity of Social Security ever more vital, since this entitlement program has the power to make or break the lives of many seniors.
Life Expectancy Has Ties to Race and Gender
For various reasons, life expectancy changes based on race and gender. White people at age 65 have an average life expectancy of 1.1 years longer than black people the same age. Women in general live longer than men. However, the effects of race and gender diminish the older a person gets. If someone lives past age 85, for example, the person is more likely to live longer if black rather than white.
In 2011, men were more likely to experience dementia than women in the age group of 65-74. Older women are more likely to experience depression, however. Again, advanced age makes a difference. At 85, women are more likely to have dementia.
Both dementia and depression carry high risk for injury and death, and can be especially dangerous without accompanying care. Caregivers should examine their loved one’s risk factors for these issues and consult a doctor for more information. This may very well give the elderly person more years of quality life.
Health Care Is in Flux for the Aging
The report highlights a few important areas of healthcare. They are: diet and exercise, risk factors such as smoking, health care finances and use, and health care needs.
It seems that very few people over 65 get enough exercise. Less than two-thirds get the nutrients they need from their diets. Since proper diet and exercise are a part of everything from less chronic pain to longevity, these findings are important. These two factors alone can save individuals and the public from many healthcare challenges.
Smokers are fewer and fewer, it seems, which is an excellent health indicator. This is another factor the individual can control that has huge repercussions for private and public health.
Hospital stays are getting shorter. This may mean that most seniors are recovering from injuries and illnesses more effectively than in past decades. The availability of in-home care also allows patients to go home sooner.
Veterans are more likely to use veteran-specific services, which saves money and offers communities for veterans and their caregivers.
Informal Care Faces Challenges
Although family members provide vital care in vast numbers and report many positive feelings, nearly half say they “have things they cannot handle or do not have enough time for themselves.” That means systems need to be in place for (or need to be brought to the attention of) family caregivers.
This section appears to bring all the challenges set forth in the report to its moment of clarity. In sum, the professional world of health care as well as American society must address how to effectively provide the care that aging Americans need.
Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics. Aging Stats. 2016. Available at http://www.agingstats.gov/. Retrieved October 14, 2016.
Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics. 2016: Older Americans Key Indicators of Well-Being. AgingStats.gov. Available at http://www.agingstats.gov/docs/LatestReport/OA2016.pdf. Retrieved October 14, 2016.