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What's Old Is New Again: Stats on Older Americans

Pfeifer, Gail M. MA, RN

AJN, American Journal of Nursing: August 2015 - Volume 115 - Issue 8 - p 15
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000470385.95028.4d
In the News

An aging population requires nurses to take a new look at gerontology.

News Director: Gail M. Pfeifer, MA, RN


Although nurses likely know that the population of older Americans is growing, the ramifications of that growth for health care delivery haven't been entirely clear. Paying attention to a new report from the U.S. Administration on Aging, A Profile of Older Americans: 2014, could change all that.

The findings show that the U.S. elderly population (65 and older) has increased nearly 25% since 2003—one in seven Americans falls into this age group. Since 1900 the average life expectancy has increased dramatically, by about 20 years in women and by about 18 years in men. Racial and ethnic minorities constitute about one-fifth of the total, and that proportion is expected to grow. Between 2011 and 2013, fewer than half of all people in this age group (43%) rated their health as excellent or very good, but older African Americans, American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Hispanics, and Asians were even less likely to do so.

Other findings that will influence future perspectives on the health care of those 65 years or older include the following:

  • most have one or more chronic conditions, such as arthritis (49%), heart disease (31%), cancer (25%), diabetes (21%), and hypertension (71%)
  • 18% are still working, constituting 5% of the U.S. labor force, and 12% of their expenditures go to health care, compared with 7% among all consumers
  • about 46% of women older than 75 live alone
  • by 2040, the population of those 85 years old or older is expected to more than double

What all this means is that nurses are likely to see more patients in this age group, regardless of care setting or location. The changing characteristics of this population—their increasing numbers, their varied socioeconomic circumstances, and the growing proportions of ethnic minorities—will present many challenges to delivering this care, much of which is within nursing's purview. Reading the report ( can inform nurses’ delivery of prevention, health, and wellness services to what may soon be a majority of their patients.—Gail Pfeifer, MA, RN, news director

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