As our population ages, unique challenges and needs continue to emerge

Learn what resources are available to help the increasing number of older adults navigate safely through their golden years.

Two elderly people walking.
Photo: useche70/Pixabay.

In 1900, there were approximately 3.1 million people aged 65 or older in the United States. In 2020, that number jumped to 55.7 million individuals, or 17 percent of the country’s population, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Americans.

Why are Americans living longer? Medical advances have resulted in earlier diagnosis and improved treatment for serious diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. The public today is more aware of common symptoms of these diseases, the importance of routine medical screening and how preventative care can help extend life span. Improved lifestyle practices (regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco, a healthy diet, etc.) have also been credited with playing an important role.

While life span improvements may be exciting news for some, unfortunately, not everyone is enjoying these extra years in good health. In fact, this changing demographic has created unprecedented challenges for older individuals, their families, and healthcare systems in the U.S. and elsewhere. Age-related dementias and macular degeneration are two examples of diseases that impact older adults at higher rates. Individuals may require round-the-clock caregiving, which can be expensive. If assisted living facilities are not available or affordable, family members often must provide care in addition to their employment and other family responsibilities.

Health issues are not the only dilemma facing older adults. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), they are defrauded more than $3 billion annually. Older adults are also less inclined to report such crimes for fear that their family members may think they are no longer capable of handling their own finances. Technological advances complicate the situation even further, providing new venues for scam artists to victimize older adults. The FBI site has a list of common fraudulent schemes and many helpful tips for avoiding such traps.

Those searching for housing options and available financial assistance are advised to check the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website which provides a variety of useful information as well as phone numbers for HUD-approved housing counselors. Additional resources for older adults and their families can be found on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website. Topics covered include how to protect investments, information about retirement, elder financial abuse, legal resources, and end-of-life issues.

The Administration for Community Living, (ACL), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is another organization that focuses on issues faced by older adults. Their online resource page for older adults includes links to assist individuals searching for caregiver resources, behavioral and mental health, housing, and benefit programs.

Since 1963, they have been celebrating May as Older American Month designating a unique theme each year to promote healthy aging. AmeriCorps Seniors is yet another program that was conceptualized during President Kennedy’s era. Through that program, seniors contribute a wealth of skills and knowledge by volunteering as mentors, coaches, foster grandparents, senior companions or other roles as needed.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is another resource available for older adults who may be searching for programs to help them remain active in their communities. MSU Extension staff can teach individuals how to make healthy lifestyle choices so they can better weather health conditions that may arise as they age. Informative articles about aging-related issues can be found on their website and questions can be directed to knowledgeable Extension experts.

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