By 2030, nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. will be aged 65 years and older, according to the Administration on Aging. Isn’t that crazy to think, when you consider that in the 1950s life expectancy hovered around 70 years of age?
|Figure 1 – this chart shows the large increases in the older population from 3.1 million people in|
|1900 to 35 million in 2000 and projected to 92 million in 2060.|
It is remarkable to think about how large the percentage of the population older adults will be in the semi-near future because this is relatively new in our lives. Humans do live a long time, but not in great numbers, at least in history. There are centenarians (100+ years of age) and supercentenarians (110 years) scattered around the world, and it is always interesting to find out who the oldest person is in the country or world (Misao Okawa in Japan is almost 116 years old). Imagine – in 1950, being 70 was considered to be at the end of your life, waiting to die, withering away to nothing.
Gertrude Baines from Los Angeles turned 115 on April 6, 2009. She passed away on Sept. 11, 2009. (Lady Whistler)
Now, I know plenty of 70 year-old people and older who are living vibrant lives, perhaps even more so than when they were younger. Eighty-two year old Ed Whitlock just ran a marathon the other day under four hours. I don’t even think that I can run a marathon under four hours, and I’m a 24-year-old training for one! Many people are finding the time in their lives to finally do what they want and exercise and eat healthfully, because they want to extend and fully enjoy this time of their lives.
People start over at this age. They are widowed and get remarried. They divorce or are widowed and decide to finally follow their hearts (perhaps towards homosexual relationships – like the movie The Beginners). Much and more is happening in the lives of older adults as they realize that being over 65 years old is just the beginning of a new phase of life.
While it is true that people who live longer are living healthier lives, there is a discrepancy in who is actually living this long. See information from the Administration on Aging below:
In 2011, 21.0% of persons 65+ were members of racial or ethnic minority populations–9% were African-Americans (not Hispanic), 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander (not Hispanic), less than 1% were American Indian or Native Alaskan (not Hispanic), and 0.6% of persons 65+ identified themselves as being of two or more races. Persons of Hispanic origin (who may be of any race) represented 7% of the older population.
Only 7.4% of all the people who were members of racial and ethnic minority populations were 65+ in 2011 (9.2% of African-Americans (not Hispanic), 5.7% of Hispanics, 9.8% of Asians and Pacific Islanders (not Hispanic), 8.4% of American Indians and Native Alaskans (not Hispanic)) compared with 16.7% of non-Hispanic whites.
(Based on online data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates and Projections.)
I work at an adult day health program, which is a phenomenon in itself that is fairly new to the United States. At this program in southwest Boston, a majority of the participants are minorities or the less-favored “people of color.” Boston itself, is predominantly white. It makes me curious to see how the makeup of this day program, which provides health support and socialization opportunities for people 65 years and old (and people with developmental disabilities), represents, or fails to represent the population.
My question is: are people in the program just representative of the neighborhood, and there are other adult day health programs in the area that cater to higher percentages of non-Hispanic white people? Are white people living healthier lives because they have better economic opportunities? Those enrolled in the program here are generally all funded through Massachusett’s health care – MassHealth. Some pay on their own, but at $70 a day, that gets expensive.
When I worked at a nursing home in Elmira, NY, a majority of the people there were white, yet there were still a disproportionate number of non-whites in the facility despite the population of the county being around 20 percent. It would seem that those who are living older longer are living healthier lives than their counterparts in the 1950s, but is there an unfair advantage for white people in the country to live healthier lives well into their nineties?
My 93 year-old grandfather lives in a community in Citrus Heights, California. That’s just outside of Sacramento. The people who live there range in ages from 70s – 90s (perhaps even 100s). I don’t think that I have seen any minorities who actually live there. Nor have I seen many in the senior living areas in Pompano Beach, Florida where my aunt and uncle in their 60s and 70s live. I do believe that there are minorities in the older adult population who are living just as healthy lives as white people, but I wonder if they will get equal play in the considerations of how we address the issue/reality of our aging population in the U.S.
I want to believe that we stop looking at people as their races when they are older and see them instead as valuable elders in our communities. I would like to know more about minority aging in the U.S. and see what sort of things are proportional (non-race specific) and disproportional (race and class specific) in the policies and infrastructures that address the aging population. It would be interesting to see what information I can find.