Daily Briefing Blog

The new profile of America: Older—and more chronically ill

Juliette Mullin, Senior Editor

As you well know, America's elderly population is growing.

There were more than 40 million people over age 65 in the United States in 2010. That's 13% of the country's population. By comparison, that age group made up just 8% of the population in 1950, when there were 12 million elderly Americans.

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But the population is doing more than growing. It's also getting sicker. New Census Bureau data offer insight into the new profile of elderly Americans—and it's not great news for the providers trying to treat them.

Overall, just 8% of elderly Americans in 2008 reported having no chronic conditions. Fifty-one percent of elderly Americans reported having one or two chronic conditions, and 41% had three or more. 

Specifically, the Census Bureau estimates that, among those ages 65 to 74 from 2004 to 2007:

  • 54% of women and 49% of men had hypertension;
  • 22% of women and 33% of men had heart disease; and
  • 18% of women and 20% of men had diabetes.

Meanwhile, a full 72% of elderly men and 67% of elderly women were considered overweight or obese from 2003 to 2006.

There is some good news, however. Most elderly Americans have quit smoking. According to the census data, just 10% of men and 8.5% of women over age 65 are current smokers. (A whopping 54% of elderly men once smoked, but no longer do.)

What's ahead?

The Census Bureau projects that the elderly population (again defined as those over age 65) will make up 20% of the American population by 2030. That means hospitals already seeing large volumes of elderly patients can only expect to see more.

Providers are not totally unprepared for the shift. Well aware of the unique needs of elderly patients, some hospitals have opened centers dedicated to geriatric patients and redirected resources to cater to the population. Check out some of our prior coverage on the issue:

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