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United States of Aging Survey 2015

Today, the decennial White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) is taking place in Washington, D.C. Only today. Just one day. A short, six-hour schedule which includes, in that time period, an hour or so off for lunch.

You would think, given the increasing number of elders in the U.S. and that the conference is held only every ten years, there might be more to it. In the past there was: in 2005, it lasted for three days at a large hotel venue where thousands of people attended.

Not this time. I am deeply disappointed with the White House about that and pessimistic about how useful to elders the meeting will be.

However, two friends of mine, both of whom work in the field of aging, are among the attendees today and I'll pass on to you any information of importance they come away with.

If you are inclined, you will find a livestream of the conference here beginning at 10AM eastern daylight time.

Unrelated to the WHCOA are the results from the fourth annual United States of Aging Survey released last Wednesday. It is conducted

”...by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), National Council on Aging (NCOA) and UnitedHealthcare... and polls U.S. adults 60 and older for their insights on how older Americans are preparing for their later years, and what communities can do to better support this growing population,” states of press release.

For the first time this year, professionals who work with elders were also surveyed - such people as primary care physicians, pharmacists and credit union managers.

So today, let's take a look at a few of the survey findings and as you're reading, see if you agree with the elders or the professionals or go your own way.

How prepared overall are elders for the process of aging? Although the professionals are more pessimistic, the two groups are close to agreement: 86% of elders feel prepared and 77% of professionals say they are.

”Older adults, however, are far more confident: only 10 percent of professionals surveys feel older Americans are 'very prepared' to age, compared with 42 percent of seniors.”

I can't be certain but it is my sense after reading hundreds of surveys about ageing for more than a decade of producing this blog that younger adults (who, by definition, are “the professionals” in this survey) regularly and in large numbers underestimate the capabilities of people older than they are.

Here is a chart of the top three concerns about ageing from people 60 plus and the professionals:

Adults 60+ Professionals
Maintaining physical health - 40% Protection from financial scams - 43%
Memory loss - 35% Access to affordable housing - 38%
Maintaining mental health - 32% Memory loss - 38%

As you can see, elders and professionals differ dramatically on this one. All of the elders' top three choices are about health while the professionals worry about scams and housing.

Not that those two non-health issues are unimportant but what I think the professionals miss that the elders know from their experience of ageing is that tried-and-true saying we first encountered from our grandparents when we were children: “As long as you've got your health.”

Until you've walked some miles in an old person's shoes and know the constraints even minor health issues can sometimes place on your life, and that presage what else could happen in the future, I don't think you can appreciate the concern elders have about health.

Here is one statistic about which the two groups have a meeting of the minds: 60 percent of elders and 59 percent of professionals rank family as the most important support group for old people. Both rank friends and church or spiritual center much lower, in the 10 – 15 percent range.

Feel free to chime in below with your take on these issues.

The survey covers many more topics than these three. You will find links to all the results in several formats here.


My parents moved from NJ to TN to save on property taxes so that they could leave more money to their children. They were not here for holidays, birthdays, family picnics, their church family gatherings, all of it. Their grandchildren never really connected with them on a day-to-day basis. But...they did leave us money.

I read somewhere that congress did not fund the event as it had in the past. Sounds typical ----

Although America might be growing older, it hasn't grown up. At some point in the not too distant future the government will HAVE to deal with the elderly. It will have to decide whether or not to discard us as they have done in the past or face their own futures with sound, progressive solutions to the problems facing the elderly.

I wonder how the surveys would have differed if they polled people without children separate from people with children?

Whether the topic is aging, growth of poverty (especially among children, minorities and and elders), the income gap, aging of the infrastructure, it doesn't seem to matter -- procrastination rules and discussion tends to be superficial rather than substantive and so the cans continue mostly to be kicked down the road.

I', not surprised y differences between the professionals and individuals. having worked in social services for many years, the people that are directed to those services seem to be in much worse situations than the average person, less educated, less aware of options, and more needy in general. We should probably pay closer attention to the opinions of professionals, as they probably see the big picture from a more accurate pespective.

When we moved from a large urban area to a rural setting outside a small town the only change we made was to buy a ranch-style house instead of a two-story house. We thought that would make it easier as we aged.

Well, we were wrong.

Although this house is essentially a ranch, it does have a sunken living room, which is annoying. We have installed hand-hold bars to help in getting up and down the two steps and, right now, that is sufficient, but there may come a time when that will not be enough. And the living room is situated so that you must pass through it to get to the kitchen, dining room and utility room from the bedrooms and bathrooms, so it may prove to be an insurmountable problem...

Another problem is that we now have 5 acres to mow and trim instead of a smaller house-lot and every year the work is more challenging to us physically. We did pay a service one year to do the work, but it was expensive and not as good a job was done as we do. So now we do it ourselves again.

One of the biggest problems is the isolation of a small town without any public transportation or nearby hospital or any kind of health services. My doctor, the hospitals, laboratories and x-ray facilities are over thirty miles away. There is a pharmacy in our town, but they carry only a very basic inventory and must order many prescription meds so you might wait a couple of days before your prescription is filled -- even if your prescription is to be filled for several months. Not an ideal situation. As for over-the-counter meds, they carry only small amounts of the most basic medicines and, if you want to purchase a larger size or a different brand, you have to drive thirty miles to get whatever selection you want.

It's the same with groceries. The local stores carry smaller sizes of things or do not carry the things at all. The meat available locally is sub-standard -- strangely the hamburger is okay, but the other cuts of meat are all pre-packaged cuts and unattractive, with sub-standard taste and quality. The produce is sometimes rotting and unattractive and choice is limited. Prices are high.

Although as older people we worry about our health and physical and mental abilities, we also worry that we will out-live our money. We have found that although we saved money on our housing, the trade-off of losing the availability of services and goods vastly off-sets any savings we made by moving here. Tennessee has no state income tax, but we have little income to be taxed and I'd rather be back in the Denver area with its rich availability of choices than stuck here "in the sticks."

Been there, done that.

Since each individuals situation is different I don't see how lumping us into a statistic will solve the problems of aging. We all need the basics - good medical care, safe housing, and nourishing food. Beyond that there is little that government can provide.

Statistics only go so far. Each individual's needs are different. So instead of spending money and time on compiling a survey the government should fund a national counseling service where an elder can get help in resolving their issues. Perhaps Classof65 would not have made the mistake of moving to a rural area by talking to a counselor who would have pointed out the disadvantages of the move.

There are so many sub-issues to the basics that it really becomes the individuals responsibility to tend to their own needs, just as it has been throughout their life.

The writer of a recent NY Times op-ed article described the difficulties in taking surveys in 2015 and cautioned about the accuracy of any poll results. He works in that field knows better that most of us. We should take survey results (political and others) with at least a teaspoon of salt!

Good survey results depend on a random and broad based selection of subjects. Today the vast majority of survey data is obtained thru telephone interviews. With current consumer technology, most surveys are of people who still answer their landlines and are willing to spend time talking to strangers. The pool contracts each year.

The tone of the author was that people are not doing their job (by not answering, switching to cell phones, or hanging up). In the comments a number of people responded that those calls were a nuisance and should go away.

I've been disappointed that the Twitter feed so far has not shown anyone talking about age discrimination in employment. Reminds me of your point, Ronni, about how "65+" is far too broad to be meaningful. Like saying "under 20."

If health concerns had not been broken down into three different categories, I'm sure financial concerns would have been near the top for the seniors, whether expressed as "not having enough money" or "outliving my money," or something similar.

I'm almost insulted that professionals would rank financial scams so high. I'm guessing most of us get older, not dumber or more ignorant. Have the professionals fallen victim to the same misconception as scammers, thinking most of us grow dumb enough to fall for the scams?

What's the difference between "memory loss" and "maintaining mental health"?
To me, "memory loss" suggests dementia while "maintaining mental health" suggests keeping one's sanity. Two different things altogether.

@PiedType, I had the same reaction as you did re financial scams. Haven't we all read over and over about various financial scams aimed at seniors? Those scams end up as spam in our emails.

Reading as many of the Tweets that came out of the WHCOA as I could stand confirms for me what I have always thought about Twitter. It is the 21st century Tower of Babel. Or to jumble the biblical references, it is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don't think we elders lost anything by a shortened WHCOA conference since tripling it to three days would only have tripled the drivel.

Most of the crap that was reported out of this and the National Council on Aging is just that---crap. Meaningless crap. Something happens to otherwise---perhaps---intelligent people when they attend a conference. They feel compelled to say something, anything, and when you get this many people saying "anything" the result is liable to be nothing.

One example of crap, to me, is the nearly meaningless polling of top three concerns about aging. Not only is it obvious that the "professionals" are not connecting in any way with elders, but it's also obvious that professionals missed a cry for help from elders. That is, IF elders placed physical health at the top of their priorities, THEN it's clear they think they are not getting appropriate help in this area. And that speaks badly of our primary care physicians, our (once upon a time) family doctors. They are not listening to us. Their minds are on a very big picture when their elderly patients are thinking about the myriad of small aches and pains that plague our lives for which our doctor, not having heard us, has neither comment nor cure.

I agree the conference seems kind of lame; and the professionals seem even more lame. But ... at least it's getting a discussion started.

...60 percent of elders and 59 percent of professionals rank family as the most important support group for old people. Both rank friends and family much lower, in the 10 – 15 percent range.
I see Family in both - 59/60% in the one and 10/15% in the other.
What am I missing?

You're not missing anything - it was my error, not the survey's, and has been corrected in the text.

Until you reach old age, you carry with you the knowledge that the vast, unlimited future holds the wonderful promise of a better, more exciting life.

When you are old, one day you are thunderstruck with the realization (figuratively speaking) that you are going to get hit by a car. You just don't know which day it is going to happen. For the first time in our lives, the future is definitely not going to be better.

We know our health is deteriorating, and we are going to die, just not when. We might very well become destitute, with no way to to work ourselves out of that situation like a younger person could. On the way to death, we might become completely helpless and dependent upon others. We might suffer terrific pain, fear, and indignity.

Those are terrifying realizations which are not present in the consciousness of (almost) all the younger people walking around on the earth. We have entered a strange new land.

This is why old people must live in, and enjoy, the moment. The moment is all we have.

Bruce, Gloria and Darlene.

Great comments!

Gloria, "thunderstruck" is perfect.

Treasure what you've got.

A French expression often heard in Montreal:

"Cheque tes claques."

"Claques" are fifties style rubber shoe covers used in winter.

So check your boots, make sure you have them on standby.

At one point the government suits will be slammed in the arse by the Mack truck of reality.

Driven by seniors.

Gloria, there's another reaiization, one that comes after 'things are not going to get better."

Eventually, reason tells you that you can't be the first person in history to have these thoughts. Your generation can't be the first generation to slam into old age and realize it's different. Why did no-one tell you?

You think, "I should warn younger people about this, so they can be prepared, not be blindsided the way I just was." And then you (probably) realize your own elders did try to tell you, but you thought they were just complaining. You felt sorry for them. You tried to cheer them up. Only now do you understand that you were missing the point entirely!

Some experiences can't be communicated to someone who isn't ready for them.

Hmmm -- Gloria has said a lot, and it shows a side of growing older that can be a downer. But it also admits that part of the package is perception. Of course the young don't really think death will happen to them -- that's why 45 years ago I happily jumped out of "perfectly good airplanes" with my fellow paratroopers. I don't do it now -- I'm not seeking to be in an AARP article. That was then, this is now.

Actually, standing in the aircraft door looking down at the treetops started me thinking about death, God, eternity, and led me to get my relationship to those great questions in order. I am blessed that the result (starting back then) has been that I don't fear death because I feel a personal assurance about what's on the other side.

But this far, into my mid-70's, I've not seen the realization of the many pessimistic predictions I have been given by those who considered themselves older and wiser. Certainly I've been undeservedly blessed. Sure, I do experience pains I've not known before and disappointing diminishments, and I know these will continue to occur. But my optimism continues -- I will continue smiling. Death will come, but it will come only once, and until then, I'll enjoy the ride.

Sylvia--Good point! Old age, like sex, was not invented by my generation. However, as a youngster, I probably would not have believed that statement had you made it to me.

Gloria--You have put your finger on the reason many of us stay busy with volunteer work or other activities. It keeps our minds from dwelling on the inevitable.

To "Emmajay": Your comments are wonderful. I've been involved with four WHCOAs and this 2015 conference was a disappointment. The "hurricane of tweets" on Monday will have little lasting impact to improve the lives of older people in any real way.

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