Chances are you love, live with or work with an older person. But how much do you know about the fastest growing part of the American population? Take this true/false quiz and find out.
Q. Old age begins at 65.
A. That’s true if you’re applying for Medicare. But chronological age indicates little else about a person – not their emotional age, their interests, future endeavors, or even the “wear and tear age” of their bodies. Avoid stereotypes about what’s appropriate or possible at any age. About a third of Americans, of all ages, say aging is a state of mind. Aging begins the moment we are born – every one of us is on the aging journey. Embrace it!
Q. Older people are boring and all have about the same interests.
A. False. Older people are the most diverse group in the population. Years of living have pushed them in every possible direction. While middle-agers are focused on rearing kids, their careers and paying off the mortgage, most older people are liberated from that narrow focus. They are free to volunteer, start a new career or business, focus on fun with the grandkids or go back to school. Their choices broaden with new-found freedom and technology is expanding their choices wider than ever before in history.
Q. Baby boomers will transfer more than $30 trillion to their heirs over the next 20 to 30 years.
A. True. The millennials and generation X are set to inherit the greatest transfer of wealth from one generation to the next in American history. Say thank you … and invest it wisely. Boomers are also credited with the recent surge in charitable giving. Over the next 20 years, retirees will donate $20 trillion to charity.
Q. Older people rate their quality of life by their incomes and age of their car.
A. False. Most say the quality of their lives will be high if they can see their children and grandchildren grow up. They also say a high-quality life includes living a productive, meaningful life; staying in their own home and continuing to make decisions about their life and daily activities, and remaining engaged in the community and with friends. These intangibles ranked higher than having enough money to live on in retirement. Most are optimistic about their future and the aging process – 86 percent say they’re confident about their ability to maintain a high quality of life. Most (84%) of seniors say technology is important to their ability to connect with the world around them and reduce isolation.
Q. Older people have trouble learning new material or accepting changes in the workplace.
A. False. Older learners have a vast array of experience to draw from when they need to learn new material, methods or technology. They can make connections and associations that younger learners do not know. However, normal aging does bring changes in processing speed, a greater tendency to be distracted and reduced working memory. Older learners may take longer to master new skills but their mastery equals that of younger workers. This includes mastery of computers and other forms of technology.
Older workers emphasize accuracy over speed when learning new tasks. The reverse is true for younger adults. This, coupled with a strong work ethic and loyalty to the employer, helps maintain the high value that seasoned workers provide to the American economy. Generating economic activity valued at more than $7 trillion a year, workers 55+ represent about 20 percent of the workforce and that’s increasing for both men and women. Workers age 65 and over were the only age group that did not decline in employment share from 2005 to 2010.
Q. Retirement means stopping work.
A. A resounding false! Fully 80 percent of Americans ages 65 to 74 engage in paid work, unpaid care to family members or regular volunteer work, or a combination of these. And, 60 percent of those in the 75 + age group engage in at least one of these activities. Older Americans’ contributions of volunteer work and unpaid family caregiving are worth more than $160 billion annually to this country.
Q. The majority of older Americans do not suffer from dementia.
A. True. About 70 percent of older Americans report no cognitive decline (ability to think and carry out actions). However, aging does increase that risk. About 3 percent of those ages 65-74 have Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia. This figure rises to 21 percent in the 85+ age group. Cognitive problems vary by household income. About 22 percent of households with an annual income below $15,000 included an adult experiencing memory loss or confusion; it drops to only 7 percent when the household income exceeds $75,000. These problems are also higher in minority households and among those living alone.
Q. Middle-aged couples can expect at least one set of parents to move in with them or move into a nursing home.
A. False. Your parents don’t want to live with you. Most seniors think that would be an undue burden on their children and an unacceptable loss of independence for themselves. The vast majority of seniors – even those in poor health – continue to live independently, in the community, throughout their lives.
However, to continue living independently, many parents/grandparents will eventually need long-term care support. Most long-term care needs are provided by unpaid family members to seniors living in the community. There are more than 50 million caregivers in this country and 44 percent of them are providing close to 30 hours of care a week on things such as medication management, doctor visits and transportation.
It’s important for younger family members to understand that long-term care is expensive and that Medicare doesn’t pay for it (with very narrow exceptions). The cost of a private room in a nursing home exceeds $80,000 a year. Less than 20 percent of seniors have the financial resources to live in a nursing home for more than three years. The majority cannot afford even one year. Most have to “spend down” or sell all their resources (except one home, one car and a burial policy) before they can qualify for Medicaid to pay for nursing home care. A recent trend that is both saving Medicaid dollars and keeping more seniors in their own homes is the expansion of home and community-based care, or in-home care. Medicaid is shifting more of its long-term care funding from nursing homes to community-based services. More than 90 percent of seniors say they prefer in-home care.
Q. Ageism is only prejudice that’s still socially acceptable in American society.
A. Probably true. Most people wouldn’t dream of making a joke or comment about a friend or co-worker of a different racial or religious background or different gender, much less openly discriminate against them. But age discrimination or “ageism” is common in the workplace. In an AARP survey of older workers, more than 90 percent said that prejudice against older workers was either “very” or “somewhat” commonplace.
America’s 65 million older people will increase to 92 million in just 15 years, or 21 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. For context, in 1900 seniors were only 4 percent of the population. Older Americans are better educated, healthier and more engaged than any other generation in history. Because of this, many feel a passionate obligation to contribute to civic life, engage in volunteer work and help their extended family. Celebrate the older people in your life, especially during May, Older Americans Month.