According to the National Center on Health Statistics annual report, in 2012 the average life expectancy of our older U.S. citizens continued to increase. Seniors who reach the average of 65 can now expect to live another 19.3 years, an all-time high. Men on average live another 17.9 years, while women live an average 20.5 years after 65.
Life Expectancy Trends
The number inched up only slightly from 2011, and seniors gained an extra five weeks or so on average. However, the long-term trends of life expectancy have been dramatic. There has been a fairly substantial increase even over the last decade, let alone multiple decades past. In 1960, the average 65 year old America had another 14.4 years of life expectancy. Between 1970 and 1980, that number jumped to 16.5 years.
The life expectancy jumped to 17.3 years after the age of 65 in 1990 and 17.8 in 2000. But in the twelve years reported after that, the number has increased an entire year and a half. In addition, the disparities related to race and ethnicity has also narrowed. Statistics from 2011 show that among 65 year old seniors, life expectancy was 20.7 years for Hispanics, 19.2 years for Caucasians, and 18 years for African Americans.
Reasons for the Increase
The latest report points to some common causes for an increase in the average lifespan. Age-adjusted death rates have significantly declined for cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia. Even the rates of Alzheimer’s disease have decreased, despite there being few effective treatments for the ailment. In fact, of the leading causes of death, the only one that showed any kind of increase was elderly suicide.
How Long will the Trend Continue?
Experts agree that it is impossible to predict how long the life expectancy rates will continue to increase before leveling off. Many people once believed that the average age would never top 80 years, but the report for 2012 puts the average expected lifespan now at 78.8 years old. As a result, those who were once naysayers have admitted that there seems to be no discernable reason why the average age shouldn’t continue to climb.
Less smoking among the younger and middle aged could help increase the average lifespan in years to come. In addition, the levels of obesity in the U.S. seem to be leveling off. However, Alzheimer’s disease, not even a top 15 cause of death in 1990, is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Experts are now debating whether the increase in Alzheimer’s is simply a case of competing risks – now that the average lifespan is higher, there is a greater opportunity for seniors to develop the disease.
What This Means for Seniors
For some elderly people, the extra few years represent nothing but a bonus to spend with their family and loved ones. They have remained healthy or are coping well with their chronic illness or disability. In other cases, an extended lifespan is not necessarily welcome for some seniors who are dealing poorly with their health and are still around only because of medical intervention.
Many people whose love ones are part of the latter group can often be frustrated at the sight of the slow decline and don’t know where to turn. The authors of this latest report understand and realize that as a society we have never been this old before, and caregiving will have to change with it accordingly.