Aging tn the Future
The size of the older population in the United Stateswill increase dramatically in the early decades of the twentyfirst century. By the year 2050, there will be an estimated 80 million people age65 and older, as compared with 35 million in 2000. Thus, combined with decreasing birth rates. most of the population growth will occur in the older age cohorts during the next 50 years. More people will survive to age 85. and more will even reach the 95- and-over cohort (Alchl~ and Barusch, 2(04). Theseestimates point out the importancc of developing betterand more comprehensive waysof assisting people to live full and productive lives as they grow older. Issues such as governmental assistance for in-homecare services; availability of medical services for preventive care, chronic illness, and disability; and housing
for older persons will be the focus of many political debates. However, a report issued in 1994 by a bipartisan commission on entitlement and tax reform warned that entitlement benefits are g rowing so rapidly that(when combined with interest on the national debt) they will consume nearly all federal tax revenues by the year 20l2, leaving the government with no money for anything else. As former senator John C. Danforth, then a member of the commission, warned, “There will be no money for national defense, for law enforcernent, for the environment, [or) for highways” (qtd. in Rosenblatt. 1994: 1). Who will assist people with needs they cannot meet themselves? Family members In the future may be less willing or able to serve as caregivers. Women, the primary caregivers in the past, are faced with not just double but triple workdays if they attempt to combine working full time with caring for their children and assisting older relatives. Even “superwomen” have a breaking point-no one has unlimited time, energy, and willpower to engage in such demanding activities for extended periods.As biomedical research on aging continues, new discoveries in genetics may eliminate life-threatening diseases and make early identification of other diseases possible. Technological advances in the diagnosis. prevention. and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease may revolutionize people’s feelings about growing older and Barusch, 20(4). Advances ill med technology many lead to a more positive outlook on aging. ‘- If these advances occur, will they help everyone oror just some segments of the population? This is a very important question for the future. As we have seen, many of the benefits and opportunities of living in a highly technological. society are not available to all people. Classism. racism, sexism, and ageism all serve to restrict individuals’ access to education, medical care, housing, employment, and other valued goods and services in society For older persons, the issues discussed in this chapter are not merely sociological abstractions; they are an integral part of their everyday lives. Older people have resisted ageism through organizations such as the Gray Panthers, AARP,and the Older Women’s League.