Aging in America

While population aging worldwide reflects a human success story of increased longevity, it also poses many challenges here in America. Today, the life expectancy for most Americans is 78.8 years. This is an incredibly high number of years which people are living, and of which people must be cared for. There are numerous concerns and challenges surrounding an extended life expectancy:

  • How long will they live in good health?
  • How long will they live in poor or declining health?
  • Will they have financial provisions to carry them through their increased age?
  • Are they still working? What challenges do older workers pose?
  • Can they afford rising health care costs?
  • Will there be adequate care for the elderly?

In many cultures, growing older is seen as sacred. Those who have lived many years have age and knowledge on their side, and they have great wisdom to pass on to younger generations. Yet, they also present challenges to a culture fascinated with youth, change, and the "next best thing".

With seniors defined as those who are age 65 and beyond, this leaves a very large portion of the United States in the senior group. For many years, once people hit the age of 65, they were expected to automatically retire and "enjoy their remaining years" quietly and peacefully. However, with the increased cost of living, many people need to work well beyond age 65 in order to pay bills, keep up with medical costs, and save for the future. While many technology corporations tend to view older adults as out of touch and illiterate in the "new and now," other companies recognize the need that older workers have to continue working. Both of these views of aging workers pose challenges: Can aging Americans survive without a sufficient income? Can the workforce survive the costs of aging Americans?

It is no secret that the older a person gets, the higher their health care costs typically become. Health deteriorates over time as aging takes its toll on the body, and aging adults with multiple chronic conditions, known as multi-morbidity, requires a paradigm shift in how healthcare providers successfully treat their aging patients. In America alone over one in four adults have multiple chronic conditions, making it necessary to ensure that this aging population receive adequate access to care in order to remain healthy for the duration of their lives.

One of the greatest challenges is that adults age 65 and older with multiple chronic conditions face circumstances that are prevalent among this age bracket: poor functional status, hospitalizations, readmissions, adverse drug events. Guidelines for treating older patients are necessary in order to meet their increasing needs while also limiting the adverse consequences that come with multi-morbidity. Physicians must embrace the strategic framework that believes that all individuals with multiple chronic conditions, irrespective of where they are on the spectrum of health and functionality, can age healthier.

Aging patients cannot become a burden to physicians because everyone must embrace that s/he will age and will also require the patient-centered healthcare specific to older adults. The fact is, older adults typically suffer from multiple chronic conditions as a part of life. With the increasing population of older adults, and with older adults living longer, the American healthcare must understand how to properly care for these patients. We have the obligation to help the aging generation live well with multiple chronic conditions, for everyone will eventually be a part of this generation.