Middle Generation: Rising Cost of Care for America’s Elderly

Middle Generation LadiesBy Caroline Montague

With an aging population and a generation of young adults struggling to achieve financial independence, the burdens and responsibilities of middle-aged Americans are increasing. Nearly half (47 percent) of these adults have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). In addition, about one in seven middle-aged adults (15 percent) are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.

Adult children, worried about costs and the loss of their parents’ independence, must make difficult decisions about the best options for care for their loved ones. Assisted living communities, such as Emeritus assisted living, allow individuals to remain independent as long as possible in an environment that maximizes the person’s autonomy, dignity, privacy and safety. These types of communities also encourage family and resident involvement. (Editor: Emeritus is one of the largest and most well known, but you can also compare facilities in your area by zip code.) 

Crisis in Health Care Costs

This nation faces a looming crisis in caring for the elderly, whose life expectancy often exceeds their ability to live independently. Millions of Americans need long-term care, but we currently have no system that adequately provides it a cost that most Americans can afford.

Now, more than 46 million Americans are without health insurance. The skyrocketing costs of health care and the number of uninsured in the United States show no sign of slowing.

The cost of providing health care for one person aged 65 or older is three to five times higher than the cost for someone younger than 65. By 2030, health care spending will increase by 25 percent, largely because the population will be older. This estimate does not take into account inflation and the higher costs of new technologies. Medicare spending is projected to increase from $555 billion in 2011, to $903 billion in 2020. (Editor: If you’re a numbers person, you can find many more stats in our Statistics page; and if you’re more visual, browse our collection of nearly 400 infographics.)

Measuring up to Other Countries

All over the world, people are living longer than ever before and posing caregiving challenges that span the globe. We think of this phenomenon as particularly true of wealthy “first world” countries like the United States, Canada, and European nations. But it’s not.

Developing countries in Africa, Asia and other regions are experiencing the most rapid aging of their populations, not developed countries like those in Europe or North America. Today, almost two in three people aged 60 or higher live in developing countries, and by 2050, nearly four in five will live in the developing world. Of course, this is the population group most likely to become frail by virtue of age and illness and require the greatest assistance.

Who will take care of older adults with these problems? Once, it was a given that families would do so in the developing world, where nearly three-quarters of adults live in intergenerational households rather than on their own, the norm in the United States and Europe.

But as middle-aged adults leave rural areas for economic opportunities in the city — as in Africa, large parts of China and other regions — older adults are left behind to tend to grandchildren and take care of themselves as best they can, without the aid of adult children.

Japan is currently the oldest country in the world population-wise, the only one where elders represent more than 30 percent of the total population. There, about 60 percent of so-called informal caregivers are 50 or older. This percentage can be expected to increase steeply over the coming decades as a consequence of population aging. Thirty-eight years from now, 64 countries will stand alongside Japan with seniors exceeding 30 percent of their total populations.

Enlightened policies, including those dealing with caregiving, may make a great difference in the experience of older adults in the years to come. Stasis and a failure to envision new ways of responding to these demographic shifts, both here in the United States and in the world that surrounds us, no longer seem an option, but the way ahead remains unclear.

About the Author

Caroline Montague manages the community outreach team for a nonprofit. She organizes events and meetups with other businesses and fundraisers. In her spare time she likes to write about environmental business practices.

Editor: The previous two articles were about young inventors and their contributions toward the future of healthcare, so this one gets back to seniors and the healthcare challenges they bring. The problems Caroline raises in her article are exactly why I started Modern Health Talk and write about health reform and the future of healthcare, as well as tech solutions for keeping seniors safe, healthy and independent at home, with home healthcare instead of expensive institutional care.

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