Growing Concerns Over Seniors’ Health Care Needs
Today, thanks to improvements in health care and the general standard of living, one in six Americans celebrates a 60th birthday. Senior citizens were healthier in the 1990s, in fact, than they were in the 1980s, according to the Center for Demographic Studies at Duke University. The number of persons who were disabled or in long-term care facilities declined 15% during the 1990s–totaling 1.2 million fewer people with chronic health problems, according to the report.
Yet of the 9 million Americans over 65 who live alone, 2 million say they have no one to turn to if they need help, according to the Administration on Aging. And our rapidly aging population will compound the problem: by the year 2030, the number of persons over 60 will double, and those over 85 will triple. The numbers of minority elderly, who tend to have more serious health problems, will increase three to five times the current rate.
In response to the challenge of providing for the elderly, the Older Americans Act was created in 1965. The Act established the Administration on Aging (AoA) as the national advocacy agency for the 44 million Americans over age 60. The AoA administers programs geared to provide assistance to older persons and their caregivers, including nutrition, education, legal help, fraud and abuse prevention, transportation, and home health care.
Yet despite the growing need for its services, AoA’s continued survival is tenuous. The Older Americans Act has not been reauthorized since 1992, and expired officially in 1995. Vital programs survive on a year-to-year basis through Congressional resolutions. Advocates for older Americans are fighting hard to ensure that the gains of the past several decades are not lost.
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