Federal Study on Aging Good, But …


There are some very interesting data points in the recently published study, “Older Americans 2010: Key Indicators of Well-Being.”  The study was put out by
The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.

As most of us are aware,

Americans are living longer than ever before. Life expectancies at both age 65 and age 85 have increased. Under current mortality conditions, people who survive to age 65 can expect to live an average of 18.5 more years, about 4 years longer than people age 65 in 1960. The life expectancy of people who survive to age 85 today is 6.8 years for women and 5.7 years for men.

That is, on its face, a wonderful thing.  However, there are many implications that are a bit more complicated.  When one begins to look at the size of the senior population (including me), one’s eyebrows begin to rise:

In 2008, 39 million people age 65 and over lived in the United States, accounting for 13 percent of the total population. The older population grew from 3 million in 1900 to 39 million in 2008. The oldest-old population (those age 85 and over) grew from just over 100,000 in 1900 to 5.7 million in 2008.

The implication for Social Security is old news, but still a valid concern.  Less intuitively obvious, however, are some of the other issues.  For example, 42% of women 65 years of age or older are widowed (much smaller number for men).  76% of women over the age of 85 are widowed and 38% of men that age are widowers.  This has very significant meaning, socially.

Another set of issues involves the chronic medical conditions which face us as we age.  The chart below, from the study, has a great deal to say about that:

The number of seniors with multiple chronic conditions is clearly evident when one looks at the percentages for each.

One of the areas that the study clearly fails in, at least in my judgment, is dementia, including Alzheimer’s.  Statistics are really not reported and analysis is missing.  As the study itself says,

While there are several studies which report estimates of the prevalence of Alzheimer’s, one of the major barriers to reliable national estimates of prevalence is the lack of uniform diagnostic criteria among the national surveys that attempt to measure dementia or Alzheimer’s. A meeting convened by the NIA in 2009 to describe the prevalence of Alzheimer’s concluded that most of the variation in prevalence estimates is not driven primarily by the reliability of the measures or instruments per se but by systematic differences in the definition of dementia.

This is very, very disappointing to all of us involved in senior care.  Until we really gain an understanding of what it means and what the impact is, we will not do the best job of addressing the problems of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

An area that the study better addresses is the need for assistance with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).  That need is the real basis for non-medical home care existing in the first place:

It is interesting that the largest growth in meeting ADL needs is in the area of equipment.  That is one reason we work so closely with mobility and durable medical equipment suppliers for our own home care clients.  We have to understand and be able to address the total universe of need.

All in all, it is a very good and interesting study.  Check it out.

Best wishes, Bert

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