Aging In America: Truth and Fears About Old Age In America
Aging has its ups and downs but many older adults in America are facing these experiences and living life on their own terms. The truth is that growing older has physical, emotional, financial and other challenges, but studies show that older adults are relying on family, community programs, and caregivers to help them deal with these issues.
Researchers have also found that today’s seniors are dispelling some of the myths often associated with getting old, such as the elderly live in a continual state of loneliness and depression and constantly struggling with health issues.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that young and middle-aged adults expect these and other negative experiences to occur when they become seniors. Older adults survey respondents reported experiencing challenges but at much lower levels than young adults expect to experience them when they grow old.
In addition, 45 percent of adults 75 and older reported that their “life turned out better than they expected” while only 5 percent said it “turned out worse.”
Fears and Facts About Old Age
Adults of all ages fear certain realities typically associated with old age. But, the fact is some negative experiences are not a part of the normal aging process. The following are among the most common fears people have about aging:
One of the greatest worries people have is developing dementia, an umbrella term for various conditions that impair one’s ability to think, problem-solve and speak. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a serious disease, but not all older adults develop the condition. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 10 (or 10 percent) people over 65 develop Alzheimer’s. This means that 90 percent of older adults over 65 have not developed the disease.
Seniors are often depicted in media photographs sitting alone in a room looking dejected. This is a reality for some older adults, particularly those who do not have family or close friends.
However, some seniors are interacting with others. The Pew Research survey on aging found 7-in-10 respondents over 65 said among the benefits of old age they have experienced is enjoying more time with their family. Two-thirds of respondents said they have more time for hobbies.
Fear of having little income after retirement
According to Bankrate, a consumer financial services company, income falls short in retirement primarily because the savings and assets of older adults are not enough to maintain their current lifestyle.
In many cases, seniors are working as long as employers and their health allows. According to AARP, older adults are working well past retirement age, not just to pay bills and save for retirement, but because they love to work.
Moving into a nursing home
Another one of the greatest fears is having to move into a long-term care facility. Elderly adults who cannot care for themselves because of chronic health conditions or a physical disability and do not have family members or friends to care for them often move into nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
But, long-term care facilities are not the destination of the majority of older adults in America. In fact, most adults over 65 live in the community and not in a nursing home or other institutional facility, according to a workshop summary report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Food and Nutrition Board.
The Truth About Staying At Home with Caregiving
The Baby Boomer population (people born between 1946 and 1964) is expected to increase over the next 20 years. This could mean that nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be busier than ever since these places are associated with old age.
But, if federal and state policies hold fast, seniors may not have to move out of their homes. Older adults could receive in-home caregiving and community services that help them live independently in their own homes.
Federal policy has shifted toward keeping seniors in the community and out of nursing homes, particularly when Medicare and Medicaid pays for stays in a long-term care facility. The report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies states that the number of people 65 years old and older, enrolled in Medicare, and living in nursing homes has decreased over the past decade to less than 5 percent.
While long-term care facilities will remain, the national trend is toward aging in place, that is, letting seniors grow older in their homes and not in institutional settings, like nursing homes. Caregiving is expected to be a contributing factor in the plan.
So, the fear of having to live in a nursing home may not be realized by many older adults because of a change in public policy and a determination of older adults.
A United States of Aging survey found that 9 out of 10 seniors plan to continue living in their homes over the next five to 10 years. What’s more, half of older adults nationwide had caregivers and nearly one-third are caregivers for others.
A New Day for Aging in America
Perceptions of old age may not change among young and middle-aged adults, but adults over 65 are facing the realities of aging. However, Pew Research survey respondents said they felt as happy as everyone else, despite their age.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seniors are “reinforcing their historical roles as leaders…” Older adults are beginning second careers, serving as volunteers and “giving younger Americans a fine example of responsibility, resourcefulness, competence, and determination.”
Fears remain over growing old. But, the truth is that older adults appear to be overcoming these fears and forging their own path. With age comes wisdom.