NIH-commissioned Report Details Effect of Aging Baby Boomers
Ready or Not
By BARBARA CIRE
While rates of smoking and excessive drinking have declined among older Americans, prevalence of chronic disease has risen, and many older Americans are unprepared to afford the costs of long-term care in a nursing home, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau commissioned by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The report highlights those trends and others among America’s older population, now over 40 million and expected to more than double by mid-century, growing to 83.7 million people and one-fifth of the U.S. population by 2050.
Population trends and other national data about people 65 and older are presented in the report, which documents aging as quite varied in terms of how long people live, how well they age, their financial and educational status, their medical and long-term care and housing costs, where they live and with whom, and other factors important for aging and health.
Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of NIH, the report draws heavily on data from the 2010 Census and other nationally representative surveys, such as the Current Population Survey, the American Community Survey, and the National Health Interview Survey. In addition, data from NIA-funded research was included in the report.
“This report series uniquely combines Census Bureau and other federal statistics with findings from NIA-supported studies on aging,” said Richard Suzman, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the NIA. The collaboration with Census has been of great value in developing social, economic, and demographic statistics on our aging population, with this edition highlighting an approaching crisis in caregiving — since the Baby Boomers had fewer children compared to their parents.”
A key aspect of the report is the effect that the aging of the Baby Boom generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — will have on the U.S. population and on society in general. Boomers began to reach age 65 in 2011; between 2010 and 2020, the older generation is projected to grow more rapidly than in any other decade since 1900.
The report points out some critical health-related issues:
• Rates of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have declined among those 65 and older, but the percentage of overweight and obese people has increased. Between 2003 and 2006, 72% of older men and 67% of older women were overweight or obese. Obesity is associated with increased rates of diabetes, arthritis, and impaired mobility, and in some cases with higher death rates.
• Research based on NIA’s Health and Retirement Study suggests that the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes, increased among older people between 1998 and 2008. For example, in 2008, 41% of the older population had three or more chronic conditions, 51% had one or two, and only 8% had no chronic conditions.
• The cost of long-term care varies by care setting. The average cost of a private room in a nursing home was $229 per day or $83,585 per year in 2010. Less than one-fifth of older people have the personal financial resources to live in a nursing home for more than three years, and almost two-thirds cannot afford even one year. Medicare provides coverage in a skilled-nursing facility to older and disabled patients for short time periods following hospitalization. Medicaid covers long-term care in certified facilities for qualifying low-income seniors. In 2006, Medicaid paid for 43% of long-term care.
“Most of the long-term care provided to older people today comes from unpaid family members and friends,” noted Suzman. “Baby Boomers had far fewer children than their parents. Combined with higher divorce rates and disrupted family structures, this will result in fewer family members to provide long-term care in the future. This will become more serious as people live longer with conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.”
Other areas covered in the report include economic characteristics, geographic distribution, social, and other characteristics.
“We hope this report will serve as a useful resource to policymakers, researchers, educators, students, and the public at large,” said Enrique Lamas, the Census Bureau’s associate director for demographic programs. “We sought to develop a comprehensive reference with up-to-date information from a variety of reliable sources.”
For more information on research, aging, and health, go to www.nia.nih.gov.
Barbara Cire is Public Affairs specialist for the National Institute on Aging.