Today’s New York Times carries yet another article about the huge wave of elderly in need of more services than their countries can provide. This particular article focuses on Asia, particularly Japan, where almost a third of the population is over 65. The US is not far behind, with 17% of our population already over 65, and an expected 21% of us over 65 by 2040. As an elder closer to 80 than 65 years old, I care greatly about the impact of these numbers on me, my agemate friends and our children. I am worried about
- The difficulties in hiring caregivers for my age group. As I near 85, it is increasingly likely that I will need a caregiver; in 2018, the percentage of older adults age 85 and older who needed help with personal care was 21%, a number that will increase with each birthday. My effort to hire a caregiver for my mother just 15 years ago resulted in cash payments to a non-certified community of women with varying levels of skill and experience. My husband and I were adamant that we wouldn’t do that to our children and thus we live in a senior community, where the task of hiring caregivers is part of what we pay for.
- Social Security and Medicare funding is simply inadequate, and the burden is too heavy for future generations – my children and grandchildren—to carry. These entitlement programs are critical to my economic independence, and yet those who are funding the program are simultaneously being robbed of the financial ability to adequately prepare for their own retirement. Entitlement programs are already politically divisive; that will continue. I recall that FDR’s social safety net, Social Security, was most popular among those with aging parents, who knew that taking care of grandma for many years wasn’t a good idea for them. In 1940, elderly parents had the good grace to die at age 60 for men and 65 for women. The actuarial tables used by Social Security anticipate that I have another 11.6 years ahead of me and many of those years could require extensive care.
- The lack of caregivers and the expectation that elders will age without burdening their children creates an unhealthy isolation for many of us. A recent CDC report states that about one-forth of the over-65 cohort is socially isolated, and that number is highest among the most elderly. The report goes on to cite the health impact of isolation:
- 29% increased risk of heart disease
- 32% increased risk of stroke.
- Higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Among heart failure patients, a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
What to do? Hope for technological answers to caregiving (robots and more AI are coming very soon). Vote for candidates who acknowledge that the solutions aren’t easy, but who are willing to address the issue. Encourage medical providers to consider the negative impact of expensive late-life care. Address immigration meaningfully, to offset the decline in the population of workers and taxpayers.. Examine housing constraints against multi-family units, to permit aged seniors to share housing. More?
Our government keeps copious statistics about aging, and issues regular reports citing the details of these numbers. Here are some of those reports should you wish to deep-dive into the statistics:
- From The Administration for Community Living, which includes the Administration on Aging, an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is this 2019 Profile Report.