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The Oldest Old

The Aging Of The Oldest Old

Like the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts for a rapid expansion of the oldest old population, in both relative and absolute terms, forecasts by the United Nations Population Division and statistical agencies of various nations show a similar trend in practically all nations. In all likelihood, the aging process so characteristic of both overall and elderly populations will characterize the oldest old as well: currently two-thirds of those aged eighty-five and over are aged eighty-five to eighty-nine and less than 2 percent are at least one hundred. The population forecast for 2050 suggests that only half of that year's oldest population will be in the comparatively young range of eighty-five to eighty-nine, while more than 5 percent will be centenarians.

While these future numbers are uncertain, they should nevertheless give one considerable pause for reflection. Practically all of the characteristics that have been summarized here are correlated with age: widowhood, poverty, and ADL problems are not only more common among the oldest old than among younger individuals, but they are more prevalent among those aged ninety to ninety-four than among those aged eighty-five to eighty-nine, among those aged ninety-five to ninety-nine than among those aged ninety to ninety-four and so on. From a simple cross-sectional perspective, then, the increase in the numbers of the oldest old and the aging of this group would seem to augur poorly for society.

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