An Aging Society - An Overview

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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 nursing.


Sally Smith:  Interesting.  Wow. 


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 bounds.


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 issues. 


Dr. Layton McCurdy:  It’s my pleasure.


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.

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