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general aging facts

U.S. Population

Age group




37 million

43 million


24 million

42 million


18 million

35 million



12 million

26 million



4 million

18 million



  • Average U.S. life expectancy rose from 47 years in 1900 to 75 years in 2000.1
  • Roughly four out of five Americans live to 65 years2
  • One third of Americans live to 85 years3
  • The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population is the group over 85 years.31
  • By 2030, nearly 71.5 million Americans will be 65+ (19.6%); 9 million will be over 85 (2.7%) 1,3
  • Of those 85 and over, roughly 55% require long-term care.4,9
  • 95% of all older Americans living outside institutions with limitations in their activities of daily living have family members involved in their care. 5,6
  • Most older persons with long-term care needs -- 65% -- rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance.7
  • In general, the prevalence of chronic conditions increases with age: 74% of 65- to 69-year-old (Medicare) group have at least one chronic condition, while 86% of the 85 years and older (Medicare) group have at least one chronic condition. Similarly, just 14% of the 65- to 69-year-olds has five or more chronic conditions, but 28% of the 85 years and older group have five or more chronic conditions. (A chronic condition is an illness, functional limitation, or cognitive impairment that is expected to last at least 1 year, limits the activities of an individual and requires ongoing care.)
  • Family and friends are the sole caregivers for 70% of the elderly10
  • 82% of the Medicare population has at least one chronic condition, and two-thirds have more than one chronic condition.8
  • After 85, only one in 20 is still fully mobile. 2
  • The most common causes of death for the elderly are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory disease, injury, and diabetes. 1
  • 70% of the elderly die from chronic cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes or strokes.11
  • Medicare claims show that most elderly who die were already sick with their eventually fatal conditions three years before death. 1
  • As many as 50% over age 85 will suffer from dementia. 2
  • Nearly 50% over 85 may be affected by Alzheimer's 13
  • In 2000, only one state (Fla.) had a population with at least 17% aged 65 or older. By 2030, 44 states will have populations with at least 17% aged 65 or older. 2
  • In 1900, most people died from accidents or infections without suffering a long period of disability. In 2000, people suffered, on average, two years of severe disability on the way to death.2
  • Based on the RAND Corporation 2003 study:1

    • 20% of the elderly die from a short period of evident decline, such as from cancer, with death occurring usually within a year.
    • 20% die following several years of increasing physical limitation, such as from coronary artery disease or emphysema. The patient survives a few episodes but then die from an exacerbation rather suddenly.
  • 40% will die according to a gradual but unrelenting trajectory, with steady decline, enfeeblement, and growing dependency often lasting a decade or longer. For a married couple with four living parents, Rand statistics suggest:
  • 87% chance one or more parents will die this way
  • 52% chance that two or more will
  • 18% chance that three or more will
  • 2.5% chance that all four will
  • 80% of American deaths occur in the hospital12
  • Less than 5 percent of people over 65 live in nursing homes. About eight out of 10 older men and six out of 10 older women live in family settings, with a spouse or other family members.
  • 1 White Paper - Living Well at the End of Life, Adapting Health Care to Serious Chronic Illness in Old Age, Joanne Lynn and David M. Adamson, RAND, 2003

    2 Session 2: Aging and Care-Giving: Long-term care and new patterns of decline. Presented by Dr. Joanne Lynn before the President's Council on Bioethics, March 3, 2005

    3 Taking Care-Ethical Caregiving in our Aging Society, The President's Council on Bioethics, September 2005

    4 American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging

    5 Long-term Care Report, Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, June 2002.

    6 Statement on Long-Term Care by Jeanetter C. Takamura, Assistant Secretary for Aging, U.S. Dept. HHS, Senate Special Committee on Aging, Field Hearing, Cranston, Rhode Island, Oct. 4, 1999

    7 America's families care: A report on the needs of America's family caregivers. U.S. Administration on Aging. (2000, Fall). Retrieved (March 26, 2003) from


    11 Sick to Death and Not Going to Take It Anymore!-Reforming Health Care for the Last Years of Life, Joanne Lynn, 2004

    12 How We Die-Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, Sherwin Nuland, 1993

    13 Alzheimer's Association

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    posted nov. 21, 2006

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