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The Graying of America

  • The growth rate of the population 65 years and older exceeded the growth rate of the total population when baby boomers began reaching age 65 in 2011.

  • Starting in 2012, nearly 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day and by 2030 20% of the population will be 65 and older.

  • The "oldest old"—those aged 85 and over—are one of the fastest growing age groups: currently, the oldest old are 10% of the elderly population and 1% of the total U.S. population. By 2050, the oldest old are projected to be 24% of elderly population and 5% of the total U.S. population.

  • In the United States, the elderly population is more racially diverse than in the past. In 2000, 16.5% of the elderly population was nonwhite or Hispanic; this percentage is expected to increase to about 31% by 2040.

  • The average 75-year-old has three chronic conditions and takes five different prescription drugs.

  • In the United States, the growing percentage of elderly people will have enormous effects on the distribution and cost of health care. Two-thirds of current health-care costs in older adults are for treating chronic illnesses.

  • In 2001, chronic diseases were the leading causes of death among older adults.


Based on:

Beers, MH, and Berkow, R (eds): Merck Manual of Geriatrics, ed. 3. Merck Research Laboratories, Whitehouse Station, NJ, 2000, section 1, chapter 2, Demographics (updated September 2005). website: Accessed July 20, 2009. Merck Institute of Aging and Health. The State of Aging and Health in America 2004. of Aging and Health in America 2004.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2009.

TABLE 9.1Proportion of Persons ≥ 65 Years and ≥ 85 Years in the Population Including Projections Through 2040 (number in thousands)
TABLE 9.2Leading Causes of Death Among Persons 65 and Older in 2002

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