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Why More People Living to Age 90 May Not Be Good News

Why More People Living to Age 90 May Not Be Good News

So many people are expected to become nonagenarians (90 or older) in the coming decades that some experts suggest changing the definition of “oldest old” age from 85 to 90 years old, according to a recent government survey.

The report, released by the National Institute on Aging and the U.S. Census Bureau, projects that, by the time the year 2050 rolls around, almost 9 million people will be at least 90 years old. To put this number in perspective, there are an estimated 2 million people aged 90 and older currently living in America.

Longer life expectancies may seem like something to celebrate. But, the real question is, what will the quality of life be for these 9 million people and the countless number of caregivers they will have to rely on?

A whopping 84.7 percent of people 90-plus indicated that they have a disability of some sort. Almost 70 percent have trouble running errands solo, or find walking and climbing stairs to be extremely arduous.

Even more troubling, 40 percent of the respondents reported having some kind of cognitive difficulty.

How much have medical advances impacted life expectancy? To put it in perspective, in 1921, when today’s nonagenarians were born, life expectancy was 54 years old.

The financial outlook for upcoming seniors does not look particularly rosy either. People in the 90-plus set rely heavily on Social Security and Medicare to help them pay their bills. According to the survey, half of the nonagenarians’ income comes from Social Security and 98.8 percent receive benefits from Medicare.

While these government aid programs are available to the elderly today, there is some doubt regarding their future solvency. If these percentages remain consistent, many future caregivers will find themselves facing longer and more costly periods of caregiving.

Recent reports estimate that the Social Security Retirement Trust Fund will go broke as early as 2034, a full 16 years before the 90-plus population reaches its peak. Medicare is not expected to do much better. This could mean that the financial burdens of caring for upcoming seniors will fall more heavily on the shoulders of their caregivers.

So while medical advances continue to increase life expectancy, the question remains: who will care for our aging population, and how will they fare financially?

More People Living to 90 and Beyond: How do we care for them all? originally appeared on

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Read more: Aging, Family, Health, Healthy Aging, Money, News & Issues, , , ,

By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor

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1:25AM PST on Jan 3, 2014

with the way the elderly are treated now, no way do I want to live past 70!

11:10AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

It is no longer such a good thing to live into old old age. The money you paid into SS for over 50 years is no longer there and the younger generation has no time for you. So you are warehoused in nursing homes and senior living areas. It's becoming frightening. There is no longer any reward for surviving past your expected expiration date. Sad.

11:07AM PDT on Aug 26, 2013

It is no longer such a good thing to live into old old age. The money you paid into SS for over 50 years is no longer there and the younger generation has no time for you. So you are warehoused in nursing homes and senior living areas. It's becoming frightening. There is no longer any reward for surviving past your expected expiration date. Sad.

7:44AM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

There are many issues with our exploding population, not just the 90 year olds.

4:20PM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

People have to stop having more than one child at an early age, and to remember that we are all growing older. As soon as the baby is born people ask how old it is? So remember that when you demean old people, because you will get there one day too, and you will be treated the same way by younger generation the way you treat yours or somebody else's elders.

3:09PM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

There are many issues that need to be addressed in the near future to accommodate the burgeoning number of 90+ people :)

1:20PM PDT on Aug 21, 2013

Robyn says: 'Art and music might be revived on a noncommercial basis.'

Yes, indeed! Thank you for that! If more people could realise that they have untapped abilities, their lives could be enriched!

Since I can paint, that doesn't mean for one minute that I stay on the same plateau. I set myself challenges and constantly improve. At the age of 70, my best work has yet to come!

Angela, I've always wondered what is meant by 'growing old gracefully'? If it means, 'don't dye your hair an unlikely colour and use loads of make-up in the false belief it makes you look younger,' I agree. However I've always had a suspicion that it might mean becoming 'invisible' - no strong personality apparent - so that it could be preferable to grow old Disgracefuly!!!

5:47AM PDT on Aug 21, 2013

Grow old happily and gracefully.

5:30PM PDT on Aug 20, 2013

I'm sure Ms. Botek, the author of this article, is far from, let's say, even 50 years old and like most younger people finds it hard to think she will never be of an age where she can't operate on her own. Maybe that's true. Maybe in the future there will be better medical care and more advanced procedures to keep people younger longer, or at least more physically and mentally comfortable. Social Security and Medicare might be long-gone, because other forms of social structure will be the norm, such as guaranteed income for a defined comfort level for everyone. Competition might also be a thing of the past ... and maybe it's already on its way out. It isn't very efficient and does not even promote equality of opportunity. Some of us are not happy with endless salesmanship of products and services and we would rather pursue lifestyles at which we are better and yet not have to give up a decent living "wage". Art and music might be revived on a noncommercial basis. The media would be reduced just to communication and not designed to make profit through spurious "information".

10:36PM PDT on Aug 19, 2013

To live a full life, with the usual aches and pains correctly and adequately tended to ... not life extended by hook-ups and unnecessary surgeries giving false hope is my goal ... taking as many original parts with me as I can. DNR suits me just fine.

Ever tour today's nursing facilities where life has been prolonged for other than the best interests of elder care residents ... ownership numbers high enough to bring in the funds, holding pens without activities or family visits, tended to as needed for feeding, bathing, changing, without any additional interaction vital to the dignity of every human being. The lucky remembered few tend to extend the sorrow of the forgotten ... very sad indeed.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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