Aging America: How healthy are we? And who’ll take care of us?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Aging America

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From OurValues creator Dr. Wayne BakerThe aging of America affects all of us in many ways. This week, I’m encouraging you to use this OurValues series along with the ReadTheSpirit magazine cover story that features advocate-for-the-elderly Missy Buchanan to share with your friends, a class or a small group.

Wikimedia Commons photo of a caregiver with handsHEALTH CARE is one of the biggest questions—and let’s be honest, it’s often one of the biggest fears as Americans age.

Because we’re taking an honest look at these issues, this week, let’s start with the somber news: The US Administration on Aging reports that, as we age, we’re going to face a lot of challenges to our health …

Most older persons have at least one chronic condition and many have multiple conditions. In 2011-2013, the most frequently occurring conditions among older persons were: diagnosed arthritis (49%), all types of heart disease (31%), any cancer (25%), diagnosed diabetes (21% in 2009-2012), and high blood pressure or taking anti-hypertensive medication (71 percent in 2009-2012).

And, the report says, elderly Americans spend more time in doctor’s offices and hospitals …

In 2012, 6.8 million people age 65 and over stayed in a hospital overnight at least one night during the year. Among this group of older adults, 11 percent stayed overnight 1 time, 3 percent stayed overnight 2 times, and 2 percent stayed overnight 3 or more times. This is approximately double the number of overnight hospital stays for the population age 45 to 64 who had 6 percent stay overnight 1 time, 1 percent stay overnight 2 times, and 1 percent stay overnight 3 or more times.

But that’s not the entire picture. The report also underlines the importance and widespread use of Medicare—93 percent of Americans over 65 are covered. It’s true that close to half of those older Americans do not have any supplemental health insurance—so Medicare’s limits hit those households hard. But, the report concludes, “Less than 2 percent did not have coverage of some kind,” and then says …

In January-June 2014, 97% of older persons reported that they did have a usual place to go for medical care and only 2.4% said that they failed to obtain needed medical care during the previous 12 months due to financial barriers.

And, here’s somewhat better news: A large minority of older Americans is getting regular exercise; very few seem to be smoking or drinking too much; and the vast majority are not deeply disturbed by their situation in life. The report puts it this way …

Slightly over 41% of persons aged 65-74 and 27% of persons 75+ reported that they engaged in regular leisure-time physical activity. Only 9% reported that they are current smokers and 7% reported excessive alcohol consumption. Only 2% reported that they had experienced psychological distress during the past 30 days.

POPULAR COLUMNS from OurValues: Americans care for each other. A Pew study found that three-quarters of adults believe they have a moral obligation to care for older parents. And, millions of us have become full-time caregivers. We may assume that caregivers are stressed-out. In an earlier “Sandwich Generation” series, we look at: “Are you in the middle?” “Are you an emotional caregiver?” “Celebrating Family & Medical Leave Act” “Grandparents as Caregivers” and “Return of the Multi-Generational Household.”

Good conversations build good communities …

OurValues is designed to encourage civil dialogue on challenging subjects—and, this week, we hope readers will share this series with friends. You’re free to print out, repost or share these five columns on aging to get folks talking. Leave a comment below. Email someone. Come on, start talking …

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