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Introduction to Aging



Many people ask, “when do I count as being old?.”  Defining “old age” is like chasing a moving a target. Today, with increased life expectancy, many people are unsure of how old is old. However, people transition through life stages in a characteristic way, so in most western countries, you would be considered an elderly person at the age of 65 to 70. (At What Point Is Someone Considered Elderly? April 21, 2021Copyright © 2022Home Care in Phoenix by Devoted Guardians)   


This is the age when most people retire and start receiving some form of pension. A person is typically considered elderly when they reach an advanced stage of life past middle age.


In most cultures, people aged over 70 or 75 years are considered elderly. However, it is very important to remember that aging is not a disability, and that there are many healthy, active, and independent people in this age group who would be very offended to be treated that way.


Most of us have heard the comment “you are only as old as you feel.”  There is some validity to this statement. There are several variables which can impact how old you feel, or how others see you. Physical, mental, social, cultural, ethnic, and financial considerations are just some of the factors which explain the diversity in older age.  The relationship we have with our environments is skewed by personal characteristics such as the family we were born into, our sex and our ethnicity, leading to inequalities in health.


There is no typical older person. Some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 30- year-olds. Other people experience significant declines in capacities at much younger ages. Future plans for this demographic shift will need to address a very wide range of older people’s experiences and needs. (WHO  Ageing and health   4 October 2021)




Whatever the definition of “older adult”, there is no arguing the fact that people are living longer.


  • 10,000 people are turning 65 a day

  • 80 percent of people age 50 and older plan to work past 65

  • People over 50 in the US contribute $7.6 trillion to the economy annually

  • By 2030, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years or over. At this time the share of the population aged 60 years and over will increase from 1 billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion



The baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) deserve a special mention here.  Responsible for the unprecedented growth of the population in America, they have brought some of the greatest challenges and opportunities to the economy, infrastructure and institutions.  Population Reference Bureauʼs Population Bulletin, “Aging in the United States,” examines recent trends and disparities among adults ages 65 and older, and how baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are reshaping Americaʼs older population.  Here are some of the main findings:


On a positive note:

  • Education levels are increasing. Among people ages 65 and older in 1965, only 5 percent had completed a bachelorʼs degree or more. By 2018, this share had risen to 29 percent. 

  • Average U.S. life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 78.6 years in 2017, in large part due to the reduction in mortality at older ages.

  • The gender gap in life expectancy is narrowing. In 1990, a seven-year gap in life expectancy existed between men and women. By 2017, this gap had narrowed to five years (76.1 years versus 81.1 years).

  • The poverty rate for Americans ages 65 and older has dropped sharply during the past 50 years, from nearly 30 percent in 1966 to 9 percent today. 7

On a more challenging note:

  • Obesity rates among adults ages 60 and older have been increasing, standing at about 41 percent in 2015-2016. 

  • Wide economic disparities are evident across dierent population subgroups. Among adults ages 65 and older, 17 percent of Latinos and 19 percent of African Americans lived in poverty in 2017—more than twice the rate among older non-Hispanic whites (7 percent). 

  • More older adults are divorced compared with previous generations. The share of divorced women ages 65 and older increased from 3 percent in 1980 to 14 percent in 2018, and for men from 4 percent to 11 percent during the same period. 1

  • Over one-fourth (26 percent) of women ages 65 to 74 lived alone in 2018. This share jumped to 39 percent among women ages 75 to 84, and to 55 percent among women ages 85 and older.

  • The aging of the baby boom generation could fuel more than a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 1.9 million in 2030 from 1.2 million in 2017.

  • Demand for elder care will also be driven by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimerʼs disease, which could more than double by 2050 to 13.8 million, from 5.8 million today.

  • The large share of older adults also means that Social Security and Medicare expenditures will increase from a combined 8.7 percent of gross domestic product today to 11.8 percent by 2050.



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pandemic has claimed the lives of nearly 450,000 seniors across the country as of May 5, 2021 — around 80% of all U.S. COVID-19 related deaths — and affected countless others. Further, the pandemic has disproportionately affected certain racial and ethnic groups, reflecting some of the longstanding disparities that persist in many of the measures included in the Senior Report. Copyright ©2021 United Health Foundation SENIOR REPORT  Provisional death data released by the CDC in March 2021 showed a 16% increase in the age-adjusted premature death rate between 2019 and 2020.2 This was the first recorded increase in the premature death rate, an important measure of a population’s health, since 2017. The provisional estimates placed COVID-19 as the third-leading cause of death in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer. Older adults accounted for most deaths due to COVID-19, with the highest death rates among those ages 85 and older.  Copyright ©2021 United Health Foundation SENIOR REPORT  The Senior Report also directed our attention towards some of the more recent trends which may have been exacerbated by COVID.


  • Poverty was 2.7 times higher among adults ages 65 and older who identified as other race than those who identified as non-Hispanic white in 2019.

  • Severe housing problems.  1 in 3 older adult households had severe housing problems in 2013-17.

  • Physical inactivity increased 5% between 2018 and 2019, from 29.4% to 31.0% of adults ages 65 and older in fair or better health.

  • Suicide increased 3% between 2014- 16 and 2017-19, from 16.6
    to 17.1 deaths per 100,000 adults ages 65 and older.

  • Drug deaths 39% increased 39% between 2014-16 and 2017-19, from 7.4 to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 adults ages 65-74.

  • Frequent mental distress increased 11% between 2016 and 2019, from 7.3% to 8.1% of adults ages 65 and older.

Decade of Healthy Aging.png



The United Nations General Assembly declared 2021–2030 the Decade of Healthy Ageing and asked WHO to lead the implementation. The Decade of Healthy Ageing is a global collaboration bringing together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media and the private sector for 10 years of concerted, catalytic and collaborative action to foster longer and healthier lives.


“The Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021–2030) seeks to reduce health inequities and improve the lives of older people, their families and communities through collective action in four areas: changing how we think, feel and act towards age and ageism; developing communities in ways that foster the abilities of older people; delivering person-centred integrated care and primary health services responsive to older people; and providing older people who need it with access to quality long-term care“.


Ageing and health WHO4 October 2021

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