America Is at the Nexus of Aging and Multiculturalism

By Torres-Gil, Fernando; Lam, Diana | Aging Today, March/April 2011 | Go to article overview

America Is at the Nexus of Aging and Multiculturalism


Torres-Gil, Fernando, Lam, Diana, Aging Today


The United States, like other nations, is now experiencing a "silver" tsunami. And, as has occurred in other countries, we've seen this tidal force coming, but are not prepared for it.

Millions of native-born baby boomers started turning age 65 this year. By 2032, there will be more people alive over the age of 65 than under the age of 15: there will be more older adults than children. And between now and 2050, the entire age 65 -plus population will increase from 13% to 20%.

Beyond the realities of these numbers, there is the fact of diversity to consider. For America, broad diversity among older population groups is an enormous factor - one that hasn't been adequately addressed. The native-born population of baby boomers is augmented by people who have, in recent years, migrated to America. This immigration is expanding the number of baby boomers - most notably, there is a cohort of 8 million baby boomers hidden within the rapidly growing Latino population.

According to research, Hispanic, Asian and black populations all will experience major growth by midcentury. Projections indicate Hispanic growth by 188%, Asian growth by 213% and black population growth by 71%. Around the same time, nonHispanic whites will cease to be the majority population in America.

LONGEVITY: THE UPSIDE AND DOWNSIDE

On one hand, it's exciting that people are living longer and, for the most part, healthier lives. Many people well past age 65 have no thoughts of retirement. As we recover from the recession, some older adults have come out of retirement, searching for employment to bolster diminished nest eggs. Switching careers, returning to school or taking on volunteer opportunities in hopes of landing a new position - or simply staying engaged in their communities - have become part of the "new normal" for people over age 50.

Yet, on the other hand, living longer inevitably raises a host of unique concerns. Longer lifespans mean increasing healthcare costs and needs as people become more susceptible to chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Increased longevity raises concerns about outliving financial resources, loss of independence and control, and fears of isolation.

Bonus years for the largest senior population ever also mean there is an increased need for in-home care providers - especially family caregivers, who may have health issues of their own and are often overlooked as key players in the caregiving network. Caregivers need guidance and assistance to care for loved ones' needs. But caregivers also need support with respect to income, respite, and physical, emotional and mental health.

Elders who have recendy come to America, or who have significantly different backgrounds, may find dealing with these challenges while trying to navigate an unfamiliar culture overwhelming - not only for themselves but for younger family members who may not speak English.

As the elder population grows larger, so does the gaping hole, a rift caused by outof-date policies and a lack of products, services, benefits and resources necessary to serve older Americans. America has been stuck - polarized about what, when and how to implement overarching social changes to address die needs of a swelling older population.

What will it take to fill the hole in mis new and changing America - a place where aging and multiculturalism are dovetailing to create a critical 21st century test of our compassion, support and care for our oldest populations?

STEPS TO SHAPE THE FUTURE

Closing the hole will take nothing less than proactively advocating for extensive social change. On many levels, mat's a profound challenge in the current economic and political climate. But one size won't fit all. There is no "business as usual" with a task of this magnitude. We'll be making history, but time is short, with leadingedge boomers turning 65 this year. …

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