A Look at the Crisis Affecting America’s Elderly

The number of people in the United States age 65 and older continues to grow. Based on statistics provided by the Institute on Aging, 11 percent of the US population was 65 or older in 1985. In 2010, that number increased to 13 percent, and by 2030 it is estimated that 20 percent of the US population will be senior citizens.

By 2030, it is projected that the number of people age 65 and over will more than double from the start of the century from 35 million to 71.5 million. Moreover, it is predicted that between 2000 and 2040, the number of older people with disabilities will also double from 10 million to 21 million.

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Life expectancy in the US has continued to trend upward, as advancements in medicine and technology are enabling Americans to live longer lives than ever before. While this is a positive trend, it has also left Americans more vulnerable when they reach the latter stages of their lives in terms of accessing necessary health services and appropriate care, as well as having the financial resources to maintain their quality of life.

A 2015 study found that nearly 15 percent of Americans age 65 and over are living below the poverty line, while 40 percent of the older population with long-term care needs are categorized as poor or near poor (rated as those with incomes below 150% of the federal poverty level).

With nearly one-fifth of older people needing to spend over $25,000 to cover out-of-pocket long-term costs — including care and medical expenses — before they die, this is a terrifying prospect for millions of Americans.

As Americans live longer, the need for adequate long-term care is more important than ever. However, 66% of elderly people in the US rely exclusively on the care and assistance of family and informal caregivers, which encompasses unpaid individuals who offer care. Another 26 percent combine family and informal help with paid help, while 9 percent rely entirely on paid help.

These figures also apply to elderly individuals with severe disabilities, with nearly 15 million family caregivers in the United States caring for someone with dementia.

Additionally, the financial burden on families and informal caregivers can weigh heavily, with many people quitting their full-time jobs and incurring large expenses in order to provide assistance to elderly family members. This can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and benefits.

“Women who become caregivers for an elderly parent or friend are more than twice as likely to end up living in poverty than if they aren’t caregivers,” according to Cindy Hounsell, the president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER).

Home and community-based care for the elderly comprise a significant portion of care assistance in the United States, with 80 percent receiving help in private homes instead of nursing homes and retirement institutions.

Individuals ages 65 and older who receive community-based care — and who possess functional and/or cognitive limitations that limit their ability to perform basic tasks such as eating, dressing themselves, paying bills and preparing meals — require an average of nine hours of assistance per day. That figure increases to 11 hours per day for those age 85 and older.

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Moreover, there has been an increase in the number of assisted living facilities in the United States, which stood at approximately 30,000 as of 2014, reflecting a societal switch away from nursing homes to residential care, such as assisted living facilities (ALFs). However, many ALFs are unlicensed and sometimes discharge residents with severe cognitive functions, leaving many elderly Americans vulnerable and limiting their options to nursing homes.

Indeed, nursing homes are much more common for those ages 85 and over, with around 13 percent of them residing in such facilities. On the other hand, only 1 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74 live in nursing homes. Based on data from 2012, approximately 1.4 million people in the United States lived in nursing homes.

Yet, while the data shows a clear trend toward community-based care as compared to nursing homes, only 18.2 percent of long-term care expenditures for the elderly are reserved for community-based care. It has therefore created a system by which the responsibility — in terms of time, financial resources, and otherwise — has shifted ever more onto family and informal caregivers.

It is a financial burden expected to be felt by millions of retirees and informal caregivers. A research paper titled Can America Afford Tomorrow’s Retirees, claimed that by 2030 many retirees will not have enough income or assets to cover basic living expenses or costs related to healthcare, be it home and community-based care or within a nursing home.

Given the financial burden awaiting millions of Americans and their families when they reach their senior years, the DGBM Taylor Family Foundation is dedicated to supporting geriatric and eldercare.

Senior citizens in the United States deserve to live out the remainder of their years in security, comfort and dignity and with access to the care they need, while their family members should not have to face the crippling financial burden to ensure their loved ones receive minimum proper care. Therefore, it is vitally important to both raise awareness of the situation facing many Americans in their later years as well as to provide organizations supporting seniors with the necessary help and support to ease this burden.

Dylan Taylor is a global business leader and philanthropist. He is an active pioneer in the space exploration industry