Eight surprising facts about getting old in America By Ashton Applewhite
March 9, 2019 | 9:52am | Updated
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d become fascinated with aging, I’d have snorted in disbelief. Why on earth would I, then aged 56, want to spend my time thinking about something so dismal and depressing? That was before I started a project about workers over 80 and learning about longevity. It didn’t take long to realize that almost everything I thought I knew was way off base — or flat-out wrong. Here are some of the numbers I came across:
2.5%: I thought the odds of ending up in some grim institution were pretty good, especially if I lived long enough. In fact, the percentage of Americans over 65 in nursing homes is just 2 and a half percent, and it’s dropping. Even for people 85 and up, the number is only 9 percent.
90%: What about the specter of dementia? Here’s the thing: Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease, but it is not typical of aging. One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia, which means that 90 percent do not. Even as the population ages, dementia rates are falling significantly, according to a 2017 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, and people are being diagnosed at older and older ages. The real epidemic is anxiety about memory loss.
50%: OK, but what about becoming sick, and helpless? Over half of the “oldest old” — 85 and up — can go about their everyday activities without any help. Probably not shoveling their driveways or doing Costco runs, but dressing, cooking and wiping their own bottoms. The vast majority of older Americans enjoy independent lives, slowed somewhat but fully capable of finding our glasses sooner or later and making our way in the world.
25%: Don’t we age into loneliness and depression? Not usually. Only a quarter of Americans over 70 say they’re lonely (25 percent, compared with 43 percent of people ages 45-49). Younger people worry more than their elders about becoming socially isolated, and for good reason. According to a 2018 survey by global health-service company Cigna, the loneliest group is Generation Z (ages 18-22).
Here’s the kicker: People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. It’s called the “U-shaped happiness curve” — go ahead, Google it — and it’s been borne out by many reputable studies in the US and around the world.
$7.4 trillion: Think older people are an economic burden? Think again. Although they make up only 35 percent of the population, people over 50 contribute 43 percent of the total US GDP — a cool $7.4 trillion. Not only can we afford “all these old people,” they’re punching above their weight when it comes to their impact on the economy.
Why do so many of these numbers come as a surprise? Because of ageism: discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age, especially against older people. The personal, social and economic consequences are devastating.
$64 billion: Ageism in health care adds a staggering $64 billion to the cost of health care in the US every year, a Yale School of Public Health study found in 2018. That’s because battling the negative stereotypes that feed ageism cause stress, which is bad for our health. And that’s just the health-care price tag.
56%: Brand new data shows more than half of older US workers are pushed out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire, suffering financial damage that is often irreversible. The personal effects also devastate.
7.5 years: People with accurate perceptions of aging can expect to live 7 an a half years longer, on average, than people brainwashed by negative myths and stereotypes, according to a 2002 study published by the National Institutes of Health. Not only that, they walk faster, heal quicker and are less likely to develop dementia — even if they’re genetically predisposed towards the disease.
I’ve learned that our fears about aging are way out of whack with reality and that knowing the facts about getting older leads to a happier, healthier approach for society. That’s why I’m on a crusade to make ageism as unacceptable as any form of prejudice. I hope you’ll join me.
Brooklyn-based writer and activist Ashton Applewhite is the author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” (Celadon Books), out now.
Jeff Sodoma, MPA, Esq. is a lawyer based in Virginia Beach, Virginia
Hello, there! Welcome to my blog. I will use this blog as a platform for my writing. I will write about topics in the legal world, certainly, as well as everything else under the sun, because I have many interests (and viewpoints). All views expressed in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are mine alone. One of my interests is music--my wife believes that I should go on "Beat Shazam" because I know so many songs--and I will be, from time to time, analyzing song lyrics and how they relate to the legal world.