THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Browsing with Tabs
Health Care Reform Noise

Dr. Butler and the Longevity Revolution

Since returning from the week-long Age Boom Academy conference in New York last month, I have been wrestling with how to share with you the extraordinary range and depth of learning we were exposed to about aging.

Although I have and will continue to use this new knowledge in posts on a variety of topics, it is generally not possible to report on the 25 or so individual presentations. They were sometimes detailed, complex and my notes are woefully inadequate.

Dr. Robert N. Butler, the president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, which runs the Academy conference each year, was the first and last to speak with us. As I have mentioned to you before, Dr. Butler is a physician, geriatrician, Pulitzer Prize-winner, founder of the first geriatrics department at a U.S. medical school, general expert on all aspects of aging and the author of The Longevity Revolution, published last year.

By “longevity revolution,” Dr. Butler means the profound effects that an aging population (elders will grow from the current 12 percent of the population to 20 percent by 2050) will have on just about everything. A few of the facts he gave us:

• Since 1960, we have achieved a 60 percent reduction in heart disease.

• In terms of human rights, old women are the most abused group on earth.

• There are only 11 departments of geriatrics in the 145 U.S. medical schools.

• People 65 and older commit suicide at a larger rate than any other age group.

• Social Security provides more life insurance benefits than all private life insurance combined.

• Twenty-five percent of elders live on $39 or less per day – just $14,234 per year - at the high end.

• There are somewhere between 48,000 and 96,000 hospital deaths per year due to human error – in other words, preventable deaths. An additional 100,000 die from drug incompatibilities, many because drugs are not tested on old people who metabolize drugs differently than younger people do.

• Ninety percent of nursing homes do not meet federally-mandated staffing requirements.

• Eighty percent of all U.S. deaths occur after the age of 60.

These items do not begin to convey the breadth and depth of information, none of the consequences or the solutions about which Dr. Butler spoke with us.

But hurray – I have found at, the video of a speech Dr. Butler gave in May 2008 at the Commonwealth Club of California. It contains a good amount of the knowledge he passed on at the Academy.

The video runs 58:50 minutes. Dr. Butler speaks for 40 minutes followed by an audience Q&A covering additional age-related topics including employment, long-term care insurance, physician-assisted suicide, end-of-life legal and medical issues, wellness programs and the kinds of health care policy changes that are needed.

I know the video is long, but I hope you will find time to view it. At the least, it will give you an idea of how extraordinary the conference was and better, you will have a new and deeper understanding of the issues we and our leaders must deal with to accommodate this permanent population increase of elders. And, you will gain a grounding in many of the issues that must be considered now and in the near future, and certainly as we grapple with health care reform this summer.

NOTE: The video below runs for only ten minutes. When it quits, click "Watch Full Program" in the lower right of the video screen. You will be taken to the website where you can view the remainder of the speech and the back-and-forth with the audience.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Lost Chord.


Thanks for this summary and the link to the video, which I will watch soon. I am a fan of Dr. Butler and his work, and have read and reviewed the Ageism in America report from ILC many times--I've managed to convey some material from it in A New Wrinkle, the musical on aging I'm working on. I just posted a blog on happiness in old age. Now I am musing about the high happiness factor and the high suicide rate you mention here, which I believe especially hits white men. Hmmm...

Wow. Thanks for this, Ronni. I read Dr.Butler's book, took many notes, and consult it often. When I get back to my computer with the good speakers, I'll watch the video too.

Thanks for this information, Ronni. I'm getting ready to watch the video right now. Cat is on my lap.

Thanks for these links. Hope to be able to watch them soon.

That info you shared is enough to give us all second thoughts about so many issues and the changes they demand.

But wait, there's more!
Even though Dr. Butler reports a lot of bad news about "elderness", there is a lot of good news as well.
We're living longer,happier,healthier,more productive lives. We are no longer the drain on society that our forebears were. There is lot's of light at the end of the tunnel if not for all of us, for our children and grandchildren. We know now, more than ever in the history of the world before, that our lives, even past the three score and ten benchmark are by and large what we make them.
The goal for all of us now should be not necessarily to live longer but to live better.
Namaste from southern India!

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