Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
The Graying of America

The Graying of America

the-graying-of-america- image0My friend’s post on Facebook caught my eye last night. He said his wife is now living in an Alzheimer’s facility. He said she has trouble distinguishing between night and day — often sleeping all day and walking for most of the night.  And, he said his wife forgets to eat.

These types of stories are heartbreaking and remind me of my own experiences with my late mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.  My family learned firsthand what Nancy Reagan meant by her statement, “It is a long goodbye.”  So, I am glad to see that TTUHSC is doing research on Alzheimer’s disease. I hope our researchers have much success.

Alzheimer's disease takes more than an emotional toll; it also diminishes quality of life for many in the family and can result in severe economic consequences. We already know Medicare beneficiaries with chronic illness account for a majority of Medicare spending. With a rapidly growing and sicker Medicare population, annual spending on Medicare is expected to increase by 90 percent in the next decade, from $557 billion in 2013 to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to May 2013 estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

The good news is Americans are living longer, with U.S. life expectancy at 78.5 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Per U.S. Census Bureau's projections, the senior population (age 65 and older) will more than double between 2012 and 2060 from 43.1 million to 92.0 million. Elders will make up more than one in five U.S. residents, up from one in seven today. And the oldest of the old also will rise; the Census Bureau predicts the population of those age 85 and older will more than triple from 5.9 million to 18.2 million, reaching 4.3 percent of the total population. It seems obvious to me, we need to see more people interested in geriatric medicine.

This graying of America (my birthday is this week) means increased patient acuity and more utilization of health care services. There is an old expression that “Parliament can’t legislate morality” and I offer a corollary to that, “Congress can’t legislate the demographics of America.” We are getting older and that is reality.