More People Living to 90 and Beyond: How do we care for them all?
So many people are expected to become nonagenarians (90 or older) in the coming decades that some experts suggest changing the definition of "oldest old" age from 85 to 90 years old, according to a recent government survey.
The report, released by the National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Census Bureau, projects that, by the time the year 2050 rolls around, almost 9 million people will be at least 90 years old. To put this number in perspective, there are an estimated 2 million people aged 90 and older currently living in America.
Longer life expectancies may seem like something to celebrate. But, the real question is, what will the quality of life be for these 9 million people and the countless number of caregivers they will have to rely on?
A whopping 84.7% of people 90-plus indicated that they have a disability of some sort. Almost 70% have trouble running errands solo, or find walking and climbing stairs to be extremely arduous.
Even more troubling, 40% of the respondents reported having some kind of cognitive difficulty.
How much have medical advances impacted life expectancy? To put it in perspective, in 1921, when today's nonagenarians were born, life expectancy was 54 years old.
The financial outlook for upcoming seniors does not look particularly rosy either. People in the 90-plus set rely heavily on Social Security and Medicare to help them pay their bills. According to the survey, half of the nonagenarians' income comes from Social Security and 98.8 percent receive benefits from Medicare.
While these government aid programs are available to the elderly today, there is some doubt regarding their future solvency. If these percentages remain consistent, many future caregivers will find themselves facing longer and more costly periods of caregiving.
According to abcnews.com, experts have estimated that Social Security will run out of money as early as 2036, a full 14 years before the 90-plus population reaches its peak. Medicare is not expected to do much better. This could mean that the financial burdens of caring for upcoming seniors will fall more heavily on the shoulders of their caregivers.
So while medical advances continue to increase life expectancy, the question remains: who will care for the oldest old and how will they fair financially?