Friday, March 23, 2012

There Will Be a Lot of Old People and It Won't Be Pretty

It still makes me crazy when we talk about curing certain diseases and we don't think about the consequences. We are in the middle of a huge demographic shift at the same time we are in a healthcare revolution. It means there will be an unprecedented number of us living much longer.

Now on the surface that sounds great except that living longer doesn't really mean "living" longer. It means our bodies will survive and we'll have multiple chronic illnesses. Cancer is rapidly becoming one of those chronic illnesses. This means lots of disabilities, lots of ongoing treatments, surgeries, medications and their side effects. And that means every one of us will both have and be a caregiver. That is, in fact,  the emerging model of caregiving. There is no longer a sick spouse and a well spouse but alternating and simultaneous caregiving. That's tough.

Here are some numbers: Cancer deaths now peak at age 65 and kill only 20 percent of older Americans. Deaths from organ failure peak at age 75 and they kill another 25%. The number of Americans over 85 is expected to more than double by 2030. So the norm for aging is becoming a long, extended period of serious illness and chronic disability which will require ever-increasing assistance.

Yeah, I know, happy news? But we spend so much time pretending that aging and dying happen to other people so these facts can help us talk about aging and caregiving and communities and strategies.

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