The above illustration is highlighted in the 1990 book Seasons of Life by John Kotre and Elizabeth Hall. As I read yesterday’s NYTimes Op-ed on fertility implosion by David Brooks my mind kept flashing to this illustration. I am a visual learner so this illustration helps me understand the changing face of society in the next few decades but I almost wish there were a soundtrack to accompany this picture.
What we cannot hear are the groans of the 45 million individuals aged 70 and above who are most likely chronically ill. As Phillip Longman pointed out in his November 2010 article on the “graying of America,” our older population may work longer but only if they are healthy, which isn’t likely.
“You might have noticed a lot more middle-age Americans using canes, walkers, and wheelchairs these days. So many of Walmart’s customers are now physically impaired that the giant retailer has replaced many of its shopping carts with electric scooters that allow shoppers to remain seated as they cruise the aisles. Such sights are reflected in statistics showing that, for the first time since such record-keeping began, disability rates are no longer improving among middle-age Americans, but getting worse.
According to a recent Rand Corp. study published in Health Affairs, more than 40 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 already have difficulties performing ordinary activities of daily life, such as walking a quarter mile or climbing 10 steps without resting — a substantial rise from just 10 years ago. Because of this declining physical fitness among the middle-aged, we can expect the next generation of senior citizens to be much more impaired than the current one.”
Without a soundtrack, you also miss the frantic cries of those 49 and under who whimper, “Please help us, I work full-time, my 80 year old mother lives in Phoenix, my father lives in Philly, and my stepmother lives in a nursing home that I pay for, I have no savings, my house is upside down, and my kids are teenagers. The only way I can think to help the economy is perhaps get divorced, then our buying of another house and household goods will bolster the economy and we will more likely be eligible for Medicaid when we need long term care, not that we’ll live to be old or that Medicaid will exist when we do….Help.”