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Huffington Center on Aging

Social and Psychological Aspects of Aging

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Today, in the United States, over 35 million persons are 65 years of age or older, accounting for about 13 percent of the population. In the year 2030, their numbers will more than double resulting in one in every five Americans being over 65. Italy is predicted to reach that mark in 2002. In May 2011, the first wave (those born in 1946) of the Baby Boomers start turning 65, the last wave in 2030.

In other parts of the world, 16-18 percent are already 65+, and by the year 2025, Japan is expected to have twice as many old persons as children. Also, by this time, there will be over one billion older people worldwide. This increase in life expectancy to well beyond 80 years of age is the result of better public health measures, improvements in living conditions, and advances in medical care. The next increases in life expectancy will, no doubt, come from medical research and technology.

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Psychology

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Gerontologists at the Baltimore Longitudinal Study have been following a group of older people for several decades. The results show that our personalities really don't change much over time. So if someday someone says you are a mean-spirited old codger, you were probably that way when you were 30 -- age didn't have any thing to do with it. And, as we age, we still like to do the things we did when we were young.

Contrary to popular belief, older people can still drive safely, run in the Olympics (the Senior Olympics, of course) and more good news: older people maintain an interest in sex all of their lives, if they are healthy. Click here to read the piece, "Old Flames," about love lost and found 60 years later.

While most older people do quite well, there are those who do not. Clinical depression is often misdiagnosed; alcoholism is no respecter of age; up to 33 percent of all older people live alone, most of them widowed women over the age of 85; about 5 percent live in some type of long-term care facility, and almost 25 percent of all older Americans live within about 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

That means that these older people have around $1,000 per month from Social Security and other sources. While covered by Medicare, the federal health program for persons 65 years of age and older, many of these people still spend out-of-pocket as much for drugs, eyeglasses, etc., as they did when Medicare was first started in 1965. The trade off is in food, shelter, and the fun things in life. Thus, there are social gerontologists and geropsychologists who help us understand better those nonphysiological/health-related aspects of aging that involve where and how well we live our lives.

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Demographics

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Yet another new projection in aging is that we will see a dramatic increase in the number of centenarians; e.g., in the United States there may be as many as 2.5 million 100+ year old people in the year 2060 vs. the estimated 76,000 now.

These remarkable people are still leading interesting lives–come here and read about these centenarians, including George Dawson of Dallas, the man, who, at age 98, decided to go to school and learn to read and write. At 102, he published a book entitled Life Is So Good!. And the number of "supercentenarians," those 105 years of age and older will be as commonplace in the next century as centenarians are fast becoming now.

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Questions to Consider

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  • Will you be one of them?
  • Who will take care of you?
  • Will there be enough well-trained geriatrics healthcare professionals to provide the health care you will likely need? (There aren't enough now.)
  • Will the baby boomers - those 76 million persons born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964 turning age 50 at the rate of 10,000 per day for the next 10 years - have enough money to live well that long? Will you?
  • Will our governments have sufficient social policies in place to accommodate a rapidly aging population?
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Envision the Future

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All of these questions require answers, and they all affect you. To envision how they might, why not close your eyes and see yourself some 40 or 50 years from now and think about those things you did well:

  • Exercised 3-5 times weekly
  • Ate a low-fat diet and maintained a recommended weight level
  • Kept your blood pressure within normal range
  • Did not smoke and consumed alcohol in moderation (no more than 1-2 oz./day)
  • Coped effectively with stressful events
  • Had a circle of friends with whom you socialized frequently
  • Saved enough money to be comfortable in your old age
  • Maintained a positive self-attitude about your own aging
  • Were future oriented
  • Remained active in learning new things
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Aging Well

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Did you see yourself doing these things, being "this way"? Good, because research indicates that this is called prospective aging, aging well, even productive aging. I think you know why. So like the proverbial Nike "swoosh," just do it!

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Sources

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(*Sources: "How Long Will I Live?", The Participant, TIAA-CREF, Nov. 1997, pp. 12-13; George E. Valliant, Aging Well. Little Brown & Co.; Scott Burns, "Income Doesn't Factor into Happy, Fulfilled Life," The Houston Chronicle, July 8, 2002, p. 4D.)

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Life Expectancies in Years

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See a table showing age vs. years when it comes to life expectancy.

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Probability of Life Expectancy

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Take a look at this table showing the probability that a 65-year-old will live until a certain age.