As of 2016, the population of people in the United States was about 15%. That means 1 in 7 people are over 65. By 2030, the population will be 1 in 5 and could reach as high as 1 in 4.1
This demographic shift is a result of a huge population of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, better known as the Baby Boomers. You might know that the Baby Boomer cohort gets its name from a “boom” in the birth rates after the end of WWII.2
I know you’re sitting there, saying, “Okay, Rachel, but what does this have to do with me?”
Well, it means that if your parents aren’t yet ‘aging,’ they will be within the next ten years, and the realities currently facing older Americans and their families today will become their reality, and thus, your reality.
Realities of Aging
- Declining health and abilities: Let’s face it – it’s no fun getting old. As people age, they often struggle with chronic and painful conditions and experience sharp declines in their abilities. When we are wise to how our mind and bodies change when we get older, we are better equipped to offer compassion and feel empathy for our loved ones.
- Isolation: It’s all over the news. Senior loneliness is a public health issue.3 Between the natural order of things (read: time), the complexity of life, and the diminished health and abilities of our older loved ones, many of them lose the close ties and relationships that we take advantage of. Knowing this, we can work harder to make sure that our loved ones know they are dearly loved and don’t feel cut off from society.
- Poverty: Every situation is different, but increasingly, seniors aren’t bringing in enough income to have quality of life. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, more than 15 million older adults had incomes below 200% of poverty based on the official poverty measure (30.1%), a number that increases to more than 21 million (42.0%) based on the SPM.4 Either way you slice it, that’s more than 1 in 4 seniors struggling to survive. Knowing this scary statistic can help us be more prepared down the road by having conversations about assets and how people want to live when they retire.
Why else should you give a flip about Older Americans Month?
Your tax dollars are going to their care.
People are living longer, and health care costs are increasing. Our tax dollars fund Medicare, which is the primary insurer of older Americans. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Report on Medicare, as the population of our parents and grandparents increases and continues to age, they will require a greater level of care, and therefore, more funding for access to healthcare. “As adults live into their 80s and beyond, they are more likely to live with multiple chronic conditions and functional limitations, and this combination (compared to having chronic conditions only) is associated with a greater likelihood of emergency department visits and inpatient hospitalizations as well as higher Medicare spending for inpatient hospital, skilled nursing facility, and home health services.”1 A greater amount of public spending will be needed to account for Americans living longer lives, while at the same time experiencing declining health and abilities, and there will be fewer taxpayers to fund this need.
You may be forced into a caregiving role.
It is estimated by the US Department of Health and Senior Services that almost 70% of people turning age 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives. An entire generation is aging out of the workforce, and many of these workers are the ones providing direct support to individuals needing care. This is going to lead to a huge shortage of bodies to provide care to those in need, so even when you can pay someone to help, you may not be able to find them!
It is estimated that 13% of Americans, or 43.5 million people, provide unpaid care to a family member. Known as family caregivers, these people provide on average 24 hours a week of unpaid care. As the aging population increases, we can anticipate this number also increasing.5 Are you ready for this?
Our loved ones have worked hard and deserve to have quality of life.
The current systems of support for families, the federal government, and the nation as a whole are not equipped to meet the needs of aging Americans. If we are to support individuals who are aging ensure they have quality of life in their golden years, new ways of thinking about what it means to be happy and healthy while aging are needed.
I think we all can agree that people who are aging should live in environments that meet their needs for increasing levels of support. However, I have noticed, especially among the white middle class, there is a common misconception that as soon as people get old and need help, they should be moved into an assisted living situation or nursing home. “The typical trajectory for older adults is forced relocation through higher levels of care as their health and functional ability declines. As an alternative, AIP (Accident Injury Protection) coordinates the necessary services enabling a client to stay at home.”6
Despite the delusion that most aging Americans’ is final destination is or should be the nursing home, most older Americans live at home. In 2016, 59% lived at home with their spouse and 29% lived at home6 . More importantly, people want to stay at home. Most older Americans indicate that they want to remain at home as long as they can. “According to a 2010 American Association of Retired Persons survey, 88% of people older than 65 want to stay in their residence for as long as possible.”7
There is an alternative to uprooting an aging relative from a home they know and love and support them to have a good life. The fields of aging and human/social services have begun to accept Aging in Place as best practice for helping people who are aging retain their independence, dignity, and quality of life. Aging in place means that individuals are enabled to live in the environment of their choice with the support they need to remain in that environment.6
Innovations in technology are making it possible for seniors to age in place in their communities.
Our culture is becoming increasingly connected through the proliferation of technology in our daily lives. Due to this proliferation, many believe it will empower our society to better support those who are in need of assistance with daily activities. “The low cost of technology and its ubiquity provides an enabling resource to mitigate risk to seniors and to ameliorate their loss of function as they age in place.” 9
Current innovations in technology are enabling older Americans to stay at home by ensuring control over their environment, monitoring their health, and detecting emergencies in addition to acting as a bridge between the person and the people who support them.
At the sophisticated end of the technology spectrum is the concept of “Smart Homes.” An emerging trend in health informatics and among savvy homeowners, smart homes are homes that are wired for the infusion of technology in daily life. “Smart home features usually include motion-sensing devices for automatic lighting control, motorized locks, door and window openers, motorized blind and curtains, smoke and gas detectors and temperature control devices.”9 Smart homes are becoming more and more common as smart mobile technology and high-speed internet become more commonly accepted and widely available and accessible to all citizens.
Those who have successfully applied the idea of smart homes to the aging population have incorporated many different techniques of remote monitoring and environmental control, from the use of in-home sensors that detect a person’s movement and changes in their bodily functions as well as changes in the environment, to cameras and intercom systems that connect to people in the individual’s personal and support networks to facilitate monitoring and communication.6 Technology like telehealth, where patients have a direct connection to the health care professionals who support them, are enabling seniors to receive their health care at home as much as possible, which is an added benefit when transportation options may be limited for seniors.
While just as recently as ten years ago, researchers were dreaming of “A coherent suite of technologies” that would eventually let seniors take charge of their health, assist them with daily living activities and building new skills, facilitating social interaction with loved ones, and ensuring their safety and believed that the influx of baby boomers will result in a “revolution of technology in the home.” 10 They believed future technology would not only assist individuals to age in place and focus on their health and safety, but also incorporate mainstream uses of technology for social interaction and personal entertainment to support and sustain quality of life.
The future holds great potential for enhancing quality of life, not only for people who are aging, but for everyone, as our society makes huge strides in science and technology. Strides that are automating every day activities and enhancing our personal safety.
During Older Americans Month, and every month, I encourage you to keep your loved ones in mind and explore the ways technology can be used to help them stay at home and have a good life. I hope you’ll join me in my adventures taking care of my grandma, using technology as a form of support that enables her to age in place in her home.
If you want to learn more about Older Americans Month and how you can make a big deal out of it in your space, visit https://acl.gov/oam/2019/older-americans-month-2019
- Neuman, Tricia, Cubanski, Juliette, Huang, Jennifer, and Damico, Anthony (2015). The Rising Cost of Living Longer: Analysis of Medicare Spending by Age for Beneficiaries in Traditional Medicare. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from http://kff.org/medicare/report/the-rising-cost-of-living-longer-analysis-of-medicare-spending-by-age-for-beneficiaries-in-traditional-medicare/.
- Colby, Sandra and Jennifer M. Ortman. (2014, May). The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. US Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf
- Gerst-Emerson, K., & Jayawardhana, J. (2015). Loneliness as a public health issue: the impact of loneliness on health care utilization among older adults. American journal of public health, 105(5), 1013–1019. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302427. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4386514/
- Cubanski, Juliette and Wyatt Koma, Anthony Damico, and Tricia Neuman. How Many Seniors Live in Poverty? Kaiser Family Foundation. Nov 19, 2018. Retrieved from
- AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. Report. Retrieved from http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015-report-revised.pdf
- Rantz, M. J., Skubic, M., Miller, S. J., Galambos, C., Alexander, G., Keller, J., & Popescu, M. (2013). Sensor technology to support Aging in Place. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 14(6), 386–391. doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2013.02.018. Retrieved from:
- Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (2016). Older Americans 2016: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Retrieved from https://agingstats.gov/
- AARP Research & Strategic Analysis. (2010). Home and Community Preferences of the 45+ Population. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/home-community-services-10.pdf
- Tyrer, H. W., Alwan, M., Demiris, G., He, Z., Keller, J., Skubic, M., & Rantz, M. (2006, August). Technology for successful aging. In Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, 2006. EMBS’06. 28th Annual International Conference of the IEEE (pp. 3290-3293).
- Mynatt, E. D., Melenhorst, A. S., Fisk, A. D., & Rogers, W. A. (2004). Aware technologies for aging in place: understanding user needs and attitudes. Pervasive Computing, IEEE, 3(2), 36-41.