Baby boomers turning 65
The first of America's baby boomers are reaching their 65th birthdays in 2011. This milestone changes the shape of the U.S. population.
Balintfy: As of January 2011, the first of the baby boom generation — people born between 1946 and 1964 — started turning 65. Dr. Marie Bernard, a deputy director at the National Institutes of Health says that means every 15 to 30 second another boomer turns 65.
Bernard: And that means that what we used to have as a population pyramid where at the top of the pyramid you had people who were 80 years and older and at the bottom, at the base you had lots of younger individuals is being changed.
Balintfy: She explains the U.S. population by the year 2050 will start looking more like a rectangle.
Bernard: With the aging of the population and the rectangularization of the population pyramid, we can anticipate that there will be many more individuals who have chronic illness.
Balintfy: Dr. Bernard says as people get older, they often become frail either physically or cognitively or both, adding there’s a need not only for a healthcare system but a social system to be able to support those individuals.
Bernard: And that will be even more challenging because proportionately there will be fewer younger individuals to provide that support.
Balintfy: She points out that the current generation of older people is much healthier and living longer than their predecessors. She explains this in part because of the availability of antibiotics and vaccines as well as the advanced technologies of the 20th century, including better intensive care units, ways to treat heart disease, bringing down cholesterol levels and smoking cessation.
Bernard: So all of those things combined seem to be contributing to people living on average to age 72 from birth or older depending upon your ethnicity and gender. And if you make it to age 65 currently, you're likely to make it to 85. If you make it to 85, you're very likely to make it to 92.
Balintfy: But Dr. Bernard warns that the baby boom generation is also subject to the obesity epidemic in the U.S., which can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart problems.
Bernard: So it's not clear yet. The jury is yet to come in relative to whether we will have the same level of health with the current cohort of older individuals.
Balintfy: Dr. Bernard emphasizes that it is an exciting time to be aging in America and globally and the baby boom generation has a lot to look forward to.
Bernard: If we are healthy as the current cohort of older individuals are, then there's an opportunity to use that time creatively and constructively to be supportive to our society and to explore things that perhaps we didn’t get to explore when we were younger, responsible for getting our careers started or taking care of our families.
Balintfy: To hear more from Dr. Marie Bernard, tune into episode 136 of the NIH Research Radio podcast, or see video excerpts from the interview in the I on NIH vodcast, both available at the NIH homepage — www.nih.gov — under the “News & Events” tab. For more information on aging, visit www.nia.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Marie Bernard
Topic: baby boom, baby boomer, baby boom generation, boomers, population, population pyramid, older population, older adults, healthcare, health, chronic disease