The goals of improved health and financial security are to live longer and, presumably, more fulfilling lives. Increases in longevity have certainly been impressive. Not only has 60 become the new 40, but we're well on our way to the day when 80 becomes the new 60. While the victors in the longevity race have many spoils to enjoy, they also have many aches, pains, and other unpleasant reminders of their continued existence. The government pulls together an impressive array of statistical snapshots in its current compendium, "Health, 2009," a 550-page record of the state of the nation's well-being. Here are some of its most compelling findings about the health of an aging America.
Life expectancy. Babies will live to average ages of 75 (male) and 80 (female), based on 2006 survey data. For those who reach the age of 65, a man can expect to live until 82, on average, while a woman will live until she's 85. These are averages. Millions of us will live well into our 90s.
Senior power. In 2007, about 12 percent of Americans were 65 or older. By 2050, that will rise to a projected 20 percent—a huge jump in demographic terms. And more of these people will be 75 or older (11 percent) than between the ages of 65 and 74 (9 percent). With the nation's population forecast to be 440 million in 40 years, nearly 90 million of us will be 65 or older.
Financial protection. Social Security and Medicare make a huge difference in the financial security of older Americans. The poverty rate for persons 65 and older in less than 10 percent—the lowest of any large age group and only about half the poverty rate of children under age 18. Still, an additional 25 percent of older people lived near the poverty line. When the recession's financial impact is clearer in a year or two, the picture may get worse, because of rising healthcare costs and the absence of cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) in Social Security benefits. There is no COLA this year because consumer prices did not rise, and no increase is expected next year, either.
Sleeping. Nearly a third of older Americans regularly have trouble getting a good night's sleep (30 percent of men, 34 percent of women). Many take sleeping aids to help—11 percent of men ages 65 and up, and 15 percent of women in that age group.
Depression. People over the age of 60 are less likely to be depressed (4 percent) than other age groups. The rates of depression are 5.5 percent for everyone, including 4.4 percent for males and 6.6 percent for females. Depression rates were highest at 7.3 percent for people 40 to 59 years of age, while the rate was 4.7 percent for the 18-to-39-year-old age group.
Chronic health problems. Persistent ailments are a constant companion for many of us as we age. As of 2007, the most recent data year, 26 percent of people ages 65 to 74 said they had to limit their activities in some way because of a chronic health condition. That compares with 10 percent for persons ages 18 to 64. Activity limitations rose sharply in older age groups, affecting 36 percent of those ages 75 to 84 and 62 percent of persons 85 and older.
Causes of death. More than 2.4 million Americans died in 2006, including nearly 1.8 million persons ages 65 and older. Among this older group, the five leading causes of death were heart disease (29 percent), cancer (22 percent), strokes and other blood-vessel issues in the brain (7 percent), respiratory disease (6 percent), and Alzheimer's disease (4 percent). Over time, Alzheimer's will move toward the top of this list.
Healthcare expenses. Staying alive, let alone healthy, gets increasingly expensive as we age. Impressive longevity gains increase the need to include healthcare costs in your retirement planning. In 2004, average healthcare spending was $10,800 in the 65-to-74-year-old age group, $16,400 for those ages 75 to 84, and $25,700 for people ages 85 and up. Keep in mind that these are averages; you may need to set aside more money based on your personal health needs. In another survey, people who were 65 and older paid about 15 percent of their healthcare expenses out of their own pockets in 2006. That, too, is an average. For those with private health insurance, 21 percent of their health expenses were paid out-of-pocket (that excludes the premiums for the insurance and nonprescription drugs).
Fitness and stress. In our stressed and out-of-shape nation, hypertension, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are problems that don't go away as we age. Hypertension affects 65 percent of older men and 70 to 80 percent of older women. High blood pressure occurs in 30 to 40 percent of older men and 40 to 55 percent of older women. High cholesterol is found in 10 percent of older men and 19 to 24 percent of older women. Our longevity gains are especially impressive given how poorly we take care of ourselves. Clearly, if you can avoid or minimize these maladies, your odds of reaching 90 or even 100 are substantial.
Weight. In the weight Olympics, we are big winners, too. Among persons ages 65 to 74, upwards of 80 percent of men and 70 percent of women are overweight. The percentages dip, but only a bit, for people ages 75 and up. About a third of older Americans are clinically obese, defined as having body mass indexes above 30. While high blood pressure and cholesterol measurements have improved in recent years, the trend is going the other way in terms of hypertension and obesity.