It’s nice to see some good news for us old folks. Thanks to medical advances such as vaccines and antibiotics, improvements in hygiene, and new technology and medical treatments, the number of Americans age 100 and older is up by 44% since 2000. And not only are there more centenarians, but they are living longer.
The news is especially good for women:
Women, who typically live longer than men, accounted for the overwhelming majority of centenarians in 2014: more than 80 percent.
It’s likely that the numbers will continue to increase as more and more Baby Boomers enter retirement. “Experts are warning that the United States is unprepared to handle such large numbers of seniors, especially as the life expectancy of older people continues to rise.”
Reuters also reports on the same data as in New York Times article above, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Genetic research indicates that about 17 percent of the U.S. population has traits that increase their chances of living past 100, said Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician and director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center.
Perls added that in the early 1900s people lost about one quarter of their children to infectious diseases and other public health problems. Medical advances have greatly increased the number of people who now survive the critical years of childhood.
The top causes of death among centenarians in 2014 were heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, cancer, influenza and pneumonia, the CDC study found.
Gerontologist Karl Pillemer offers some informative observations about what happened when he stopped conducting research and performing statistical analyses on aging and went out and actually talked with some older people.
One question he asked was whether one needs a purpose in life and, if so, how to discover it. His respondents told him “you are likely to have a number of purposes, which will shift as you progress through life”:
The elders recommend that we re-shape the quest for a purpose, thinking instead of looking for a general direction and pursuing it energetically and courageously. Determining a direction in life is easier, more spontaneous, more flexible, and less laden with overtones of a mystical revelation that sets you on an immutable life path. Times change, circumstances change – indeed, change itself is the norm rather than the exception. A grand purpose, in their view, is not only unnecessary – it can also get in the way of a fulfilling career. Instead, they have offered the idea of finding an orientation, a ‘working model’ if you will, that guides you through each phase of life.
And the way to find such an orientation, Pillemer says, is to interview your future self. That’s literally impossible, of course, but the next best thing is to talk with an older person who is living the life you’d like to see your future self living, someone who is
preferably really old. You don’t want a 40-year-old if you are 20; you want someone in his or her 80s, 90s, or a centenarian if you can find one. You need your future self to have the truly long view, as well as the detachment that comes from a very long life.
If you’re already in that preferred age group, why not consider making yourself available to be interviewed by people just starting out in life through a mentoring or community service program?
Who is going to take care of all of us as we continue to live longer?
Geriatrics is one of the few medical specialties in the United States that is contracting even as the need increases, ranking at the bottom of the list of specialties that internal medicine residents choose to pursue.
Geriatricians are physicians already certified in internal or family medicine who have had additional training in caring for older adults. They are equipped to handle not only medical care, but also the psychological and social problems of aging.
According to the article, a big part of the reason that so few physicians choose geriatrics is Medicare, the insurance program that covers U.S. Citizens age 65 and older:
Since the health care of older patients is covered mostly by Medicare, the federal insurance program’s low reimbursement rates make sustaining a geriatric practice difficult, many in the field say.
Medicare also does not reimburse physicians for much of the long consultation time that may be necessary for advising patients and their family members and/or caregivers.