Business and Economics

Study Examines Effects of Aging U.S. Population

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June 30, 2014 – As the “baby boomer” generation nears retirement, many experts and agencies are beginning to look ahead to the effects of an increasingly older United States population.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) released findings this week of a study based largely on the 2010 U.S. census, titled “65+ in the United States: 2010.”

One of the key findings is that, while rates of smoking and excessive drinking have dropped among older Americans, rates of chronic disease have risen. The study also indicates that many older Americans are not prepared for the cost of long-term residential care.

According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the over 65 population now numbers above 40 million, and is expected to rise to 83.7 million by 2050, equaling one-fifth of the country’s population.

The report also highlights significant differences among the older population, with diversity in life span, how well they age, their financial and educational status, their medical and long-term care and housing costs, and where they live and with whom.

In a press release, NIH highlighted the following key health-related findings:

  • Rates of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have declined among those 65 and older, but the percentage of overweight and obese people has increased. Between 2003-2006, 72 percent of older men and 67 percent of older women were overweight or obese. Obesity is associated in increased rates of diabetes, arthritis, and impaired mobility, and in some cases with higher death rates.
  • Research based on NIA’s Health and Retirement Study suggests that the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes, increased among older people between 1998 and 2008. For example, in 2008, 41 percent of the older population had three or more chronic conditions, 51 percent had one or two, and only 8 percent had no chronic conditions.
  • The cost of long-term care varies by care setting. The average cost of a private room in a nursing home was $229 per day or $83,585 per year in 2010. Less than one-fifth of older people have the personal financial resources to live in a nursing home for more than three years and almost two-thirds cannot afford even one year. Medicare provides coverage in a skilled nursing facility to older and disabled patients for short time periods following hospitalization. Medicaid covers long-term care in certified facilities for qualifying low-income seniors. In 2006, Medicaid paid for 43 percent of long-term care.

“Most of the long-term care provided to older people today comes from unpaid family members and friends,” noted said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “Baby boomers had far fewer children than their parents. Combined with higher divorce rates and disrupted family structures, this will result in fewer family members to provide long-term care in the future. This will become more serious as people live longer with conditions such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.”

The report also covers economic characteristics, geographic distribution, social and other characteristics.

“We hope this report will serve as a useful resource to policymakers, researchers, educators, students and the public at large,” said Enrique Lamas, the Census Bureau’s associate director for demographic programs. “We sought to develop a comprehensive reference with up-to-date information from a variety of reliable sources.”

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