We are living in an unprecedented time in history: never before have there been so many elderly people on our planet and never have they made up such a large percentage of our global population. The number of U.S. Seniors in particular is accelerating at an unparalleled rate. If we take the population of older Americans in 1930, we would find they numbered less than 7 million, or 5.4% of the population. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that people 65 and older represented 12.4% of the population in 2000—and that number is growing so quickly it's expected to reach 19% of the population by 2030!
Right now the number of seniors is increasing faster than younger populations, which is beginning to have an impact on everything from the economy to family relations and the healthcare industry. And this is just the beginning, as the population of elderly Americans continues to rise at an advanced pace the impact will become more evident in many facets of our society.
Senior Population to Double by 2030
Let's take a look at the numbers to grasp the rate at which our elderly population is expanding. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million older persons, more than twice their population in 2000. Seniors over 80 will account for more than 32 million Americans by 2050. People 65 and over accounted for 12.4% of the population in 2000 but that figure is expected to reach 19% of the population by 2030.
What do the Numbers Mean?
This rapid growth of the nation's elderly population is a result of the aging of the Baby Boom generation. In 2011 the first of about 77 million Baby Boomers (American's born between 1946 through 1964) began heading into retirement. Each year that follows more than 3.5 million Boomers turn 55.
Baby Boomers are aging but that in itself is not the extent of the scenario, they will also live much longer, as all of us will, due to advances in technology and medical science. This has vast consequences in many areas of social and economic life. For example, this means many more people living longer after retirement—so not contributing to the programs like Social Security—and at a time when their healthcare costs are rising due to their ages, so they are drawing more social services out of the social safety net.
As the Boomers begin to experience declines in their physical and sensory capabilities, they will need and respond to products and services that help them stay intellectually and socially stimulated and offer opportunities for companionship and engagement.
Caring for Elderly Family Members
The good news is that modern advancements will allow more and more elderly people to enjoy active, healthy lives and contribute to society. However many are likely to have at least one chronic health condition. Today, three out of four Americans (an astounding 75%) aged 65 and older have to cope with health concerns from cardiovascular disease to diabetes, cancer or chronic respiratory diseases.
The biggest impact will be on their families and loved ones. It is predicted that one in 10 adults over the age of 50 takes care of an aging family member. Almost two-thirds of familial caretakers are women—and they typically don't get paid for their work.
Family caregivers are the foundation of the care system for elderly. The economic value of their service is estimated at $350 billion a year. Taking care of aging family can exact a financial and emotional toll. Family caregivers who spend at least 20 hours per week taking care of an elderly relative are less likely to be able to also hold down a paid job and so they are more likely to face severe financial problems when they retire themselves. They also run a high risk of developing mental health problems due to the stress that caretaking causes.
Counseling, respite, and services which help those taking care of family members keep them engaged and connected are valuable resources for ensuring they can stay up to the task without becoming overwhelmed.
Many families are not able to care for their aging loved ones and so they look to assisted living facilities to help. The ages of those who can no longer live unassisted at home and move to housing vary, with 54% of assisted living residents in 2010 being 85 years or older, 27% between 75-84 years old, 9% between 65 and 74 years and 11 percent younger than 65 years old. Assisted living is a growing industry—and it will continue to be one of the fastest growing segments in the coming years.
The growing population of elderly will have many effects on the lives of Americans and the overall social and economic structure of society. Services, resources and products that are aimed at helping families care for and stay connected with their loved ones are vital. The elderly are vulnerable to isolation, stress from health conditions and boredom. It is important for us as a society, and as caring members of our own families, to help make the transition to the slower, less active pace of retirement easier for those who are aging and help them find ways to stay connected and engaged to their support systems—their families, friends and loved ones.