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Americans Over 65 to Double by 2030

Fewer Babies, Longer Life Spans to Strain Global Healthcare Resources

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 13, 2003 -- Getting older? Worried about aging? You're far from alone. New research shows the world's elderly population is expected to more than double in the next 30 years, but experts say it's not likely to be a graceful process.

Though the number of adults over 65 in the U.S. alone is expected to grow from about 35 million in 2000 to 71 million by 2030, the gradual graying of the globe will have an even bigger impact on developing countries, where the number of people over 65 is projected to nearly triple from 249 million to 690 million.

The new data, published in the Feb. 14 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is based on information from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations.

Researchers say a 20-year increase in the average life span and a decline in fertility over the last half century combined with the baby boom of the post World War II years has fueled the dramatic increase in the elderly population. Life expectancy now ranges from 76 to 80 in developed countries, and life expectancy has also increased in lesser-developed countries.

In addition, women are having fewer babies, which means that the elderly are expected to account for a substantially larger proportion of the world's population than ever before.

At the same time, the world has also experienced a major shift in the leading causes of death -- from infectious diseases and acute illness to chronic diseases and degenerative illness. Those changes mean that the aging population will put a much greater strain on healthcare systems and for a longer period of time.

For example, in the U.S., about 80% of all persons over age 65 have at least one chronic condition and 50% have two, such as heart disease, respiratory conditions, neurological disorders, diabetes, and cancer. In fact, diabetes affects about one in five people over 65, and 10% suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

Other chronic conditions, such as arthritis and osteoporosis, can also contribute to severe disability. Arthritis affects about 59% of people over 65 in the U.S. and is the leading cause of disability.

Together, those trends are already having a major impact on the healthcare system and will potentially lead to even greater healthcare costs. In the U.S., spending on nursing home and home healthcare has already doubled from 1990-2001 and is now more than $132 billion.

Researchers say the burden of paying for these largely public-supported healthcare programs is likely to fall on a dwindling number of working adults under the age of 65, which will likely lead to a shortage of public resources.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 14, 2003.