Sally Smith: Welcome to Age to Age. I’m Sally Smith. Let’s talk.
Today, we’re fortunate to have Dr. Layton McCurdy, Dean Emeritus of the College of Medicine, who is a great thinker. He’s going to discuss one of the big issues
that we have here, which is aging. How
big, Layton, do
you think the current aging and caregiving crisis is? We see Alzheimer’s all over the front of
magazines, caregiver problems too. How
big is this issue?
Dr. Layton McCurdy: I
think, Sally, it’s a huge issue. And I
think it results in part because of the success of modern medicine. We’re living longer. And one of the hazards of living longer is
dementia and the associated things that come along with old age, incapacities
of various kinds, physical as well as mental.
Sally Smith: Do we have the
caregiver situation in hand well enough to be able to take care of these
people, the ones that do need care, as they move forward?
Dr. Layton McCurdy: Well,
it’s interesting. If you look at, for
instance, the stock, business development, in residential care for older
people, it’s a booming business, and it has been for, perhaps, the last
decade. Will there be enough places and,
for those people, will there be enough money to pay for that, as
individuals? I think that if a person
has some independent means, there will probably be care systems for them, or if
they have family that is willing to keep them.
But I think our tradition in America, probably across the whole
country, certainly in the South, has been that older people stay with
families. We don’t do that anymore. We’re different. Families are less fixed in one place. They tend to be mobile and moving
around. So I think it’s a challenge that
we face, and I’m not sure how much we’re addressing it. We certainly are, in our research, trying to
delay, certainly, the dementia, the mental deterioration that goes with old
age. Physically, I think, we’re working
on things too.
Sally Smith: Well, you
know, I was so interested, you bring up cost, I was interested to learn that
many people think that Medicare takes care of long-term nursing care, and it
does not. It will take care of you if
you have a recovery from surgery. You
could go to a nursing home, or something, for a specific cause and effect. That is a huge hole in people’s perceptions
of how costs play out.
Dr. Layton McCurdy: It’s a
very large hole in their perception.
Many people, reaching a certain age, will actually transfer their
financial holdings, if they have any, to family members so they can become
Medicaid-eligible. So we’re converting
what have been independent people all their lives into Medicaid patients,
because that will pay for skilled
Dr. Layton McCurdy:
Yeah. You know, is that a blow to
one’s dignity when we do that? I suspect
so. I mean, we all like to be
independent, and being old doesn’t change that, really.
Sally Smith: Maybe it’s
catching it on the cusp when someone has lost the ability to care whether
they’re independent or not. I was so
interested in that fact that Alzheimer’s, alone, and we’re talking aging and
all the reasons that we end up with a huge aging population, as you say, people
are living longer, but just in the realm of Alzheimer’s, currently, there are
5.1 million Americans with Alzheimer’s.
Now, by the year 2050, they think there will be 16 million! What about the caregivers? You mentioned many people are cared for at
home. For every person that stays at
home, you’ve got somebody else who can’t work as much, has a financial
burden. Is that as big of an issue as it
seems to be?
Dr. Layton McCurdy: I think
it is. I think it’s a huge issue. And I would hasten to add that I see the same
numbers that you do about Alzheimer’s.
The differentiation between Alzheimer’s and just the dementia of aging
is challenging, especially in a population that is in their late seventies or
eighties. When you see dementia in a
50-year-old, you can pretty much bet that it’s Alzheimer’s, or one of the more
exotic forms of dementia. But when you
get into your late seventies, and eighties, I’m not sure to what extent we’re
dealing with Alzheimer’s and to what extent we’re just dealing with the
dementia of aging. Alzheimer’s is handy
because everybody knows what that means.
And, interestingly, at my point in life, because it’s a little difficult
to remember names, and so forth, I get one of my neuropsychology friends to
check my memory every month to see where it’s going.
Sally Smith: As they hit
the age of 65, baby boomers will be turning 65 at the rate 10,000 a day, and
that phenomenon is beginning now. And,
of course, a huge issue is that they are now taking care of their parents. They never got a break, really, after taking
care of their own children. They’ve
never not been caregiving, I guess, is what I’m saying. And that plays into what your expectation of
what your life would have been.
Dr. Layton McCurdy:
Right. I haven’t heard this
recently. There used to be a cute little
saying called the seesaw
generation. The seesaw generation was
where you had children on one end of the seesaw and elderly parents on the
other end, and you were in the middle trying to create balance. And I think that’s true. This particular boomer’s generation, they’re
probably healthier, cardiovascular-wise, than the preceding generation, which
is good, but it also means they’ll live longer.
And, the greater number of people living longer, the greater number of
Alzheimer’s patients, and dementia patients, we’re going to have, and the
bigger the problem is going to be.
Sally Smith: Wow. In a country with such huge resources, even
something like this, I read, you know, it’s billions of dollars to take care of
just what we are already doing, and it’s just going to grow by leaps and
Thank you so much for giving us an overview of our situation with
aging and it’s associated issues. I’m
glad that you’re going to stay and talk with us about a few more of these
Dr. Layton McCurdy: It’s my
Sally Smith: Thank you so
much, all of our listeners, for joining us today. We welcome your suggestions and comments on
our website. This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying good-bye and wishing
you courage and joy on your journey. We
are all connected.
If you enjoy
listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle. It’s the story of how she personally
responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with
a parent with dementia. Just click on
Sally Smith’s name under the Health Professionals tab on the Podcast home
page. All profits support research at
the Center on Aging. Thanks.