Earth: The Gray(ing) Planet

Published in Woonsocket Call on April 17, 2016

Last month, a National Institute of Health funded U.S. Census Bureau report was released announcing that the world’s older population is growing dramatically at an unprecedented rate. According to the newly released federal report, “An Aging World: 2015,” 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. This percentage is projected to jump to nearly 17 percent of the world’s population by 2050 (1.6 billion).

The new 165 page report, released on March 28, 2016, was commissioned by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier. The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for. NIA has partnered with Census to provide the best possible data so that we can better understand the course and implications of population aging.”

“An Aging World: 2015” is chock full of information about life expectancy, gender balance, health, mortality, disability, health care systems, labor force participation and retirement, pensions and poverty among older people around the world.

“We are seeing population aging in every country in every part of the world,” said John Haaga, Ph.D., acting director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “Many countries in Europe and Asia are further along in the process, or moving more rapidly, than we are in the United States. Since population aging affects so many aspects of public life—acute and long-term health care needs; pensions, work and retirement; transportation; housing—there is a lot of potential for learning from each other’s experience.”

A Look at Some of the Details

The report noted that America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050. By 2050, global life expectancy at birth is projected to increase by almost eight years, climbing from 68.6 years in 2015 to 76.2 years in 2050.

In addition, the global population of the “oldest old”—people aged 80 and older—is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. The oldest old population in some Asian and Latin American countries is predicted to quadruple by 2050.

The researchers say that the graying of the globe is not uniform, “a feature of global population aging is its uneven speed across world regions and development levels.” The older population in developed countries have been aging for decades, some for over a century. “In 2015, 1 in 6 people in the world live in a more developed country, but more than a third of the world population aged 65 and older and over half of the world population aged 85 and older live in these countries. The older population in more developed countries,” says the report.

Meanwhile, the researchers report that in the less developed world, “Asia stands out as the population giant, given both the size of its older population (617.1 million in 2015) and its current share of the world older population (more than half).” By 2050, almost two-thirds of the world’s older people will live in this continent, primarily located in the eastern and northern hemispheres. “Even countries experiencing slower aging will see a large increase in their older populations. Africa, for instance, is projected to still have a young population in 2050 (with those at older ages projected to be less than 7 percent of the total regional population), yet the projected 150.5 million older Africans would be almost quadruple the 40.6 million in 2015, notes the report. .

The Graying of the Ocean State, Too

AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell says that statistics gleamed from a new interactive online tool, the AARP Data Explorer, detailed by blogger Wendy Fox-Grage, a senior strategic policy advisor for AARP Policy Institute, suggests that Rhode Island for some time, has had the highest per capita 85 plus population of any state. But “Data Explorer also shows that Rhode Island was surpassed in 85 plus per capita in 2015 – second now to Florida by 1/10,000th of a percentage point. Interesting, by 1260, we are projected to rank 14th.

“Nationally, from 2010 to 2060, the 85-plus population will more than triple (260 percent), the fastest growth of any age group over that time period,” she says.

Connell says, “AARP Data Explorer clearly shows that the age 65-plus population will grow much faster than younger age groups. All three older age groups (65-74, 75-84 and 85-plus) will more than double between 2010 and 2060, while the younger age groups (0-17, 18-49, 50-64) will increase only slightly.”

“The growth of the age 85-plus population will significantly outpace all other age groups, once Boomers begin turning 85 in the 2030s,” adds Connell, noting that “This phenomenon will have significant impact on every aspect of society, ranging from our health care system to the economy.”

“People age 85-plus are the group most likely to need long-term services and supports (LTSS) to help them with everyday tasks. They not only have higher rates of disability than younger people, but they are also more likely to be living alone, without a spouse or other family member to provide them with assistance,” observes Connell.

Over the years, the Rhode Island General Assembly has enacted legislative changes in the way it delivers and funds aging services and supports for older Rhode Islanders and their family caregivers, says Connell.

According to Connell, early last year, AARP Rhode Island released, “Raising Expectations 2014: A Report Card for Rhode Island Long Term Services and Supports System Performance.” The report assessed the LTSS Scorecard and recommended policy goals.

Connell says that the results revealed that Rhode Island showed strengths. With the subsequent passage of key legislative proposals that included caregiver paid family leave and the CARE Act, the state has moved in the right direction, she says, stressing that “the policy report pointed to areas for improvement that state leaders should not ignore.”

“With the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act through 2019, and continued backing from Governor Raimondo, Rhode Island seniors and caregivers are benefitting from a host of home- and community-based programs,” says Director Charles Fogarty, of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs. “A top priority for the agency is strengthening of those services so everyone can make it in Rhode Island. We are proud to partner with hardworking older Rhode Islanders and advocates; we are constantly listening to their suggestions which are helpful in providing direction on development of effective programming and policies,” he says.

Fogarty noted that during Governor Gina Raimondo’s first two budget cycles (FY 2016 enacted and FY 2017 proposed budgets), more than $1 million in additional general revenue funding has been allocated for programs such as Meals on Wheels, senior centers and other home and community care services. Seniors can remain in their homes with a high quality of life for as long as possible through the provision of affordable and accessible home and community-based services and living options preventing or delaying institutionalization.

Connell says a the nation’s population ages, Rhode Island now has an opportunity of showing other states, with growing age 85 plus populations what it takes to care for an aging population.

Rhode Island, too, can also teach the world community a thing or two about providing programs and services to their older citizens.


The Best Of…Seniors Can follow Steps to Avoid Heat-Related Illnesses

Published July 5, 2002, Pawtucket Times

            On July 3rd, it was so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement outside of McCoy Stadium.

             Although more than 10,500 fans had bought tickets to watch the PawSox game against the Ottawa Lynx, which concluded with a 45-minute fireworks display, only 8,300 fans showed up, according to Ken McGill, co-chair of teh Pawtucket Fireworks Committee.

             There were even smaller crowds who set up chairs in the parking lots and on sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhoods around McCoy Stadium to watch the much-awaited fireworks display, McGill said.

              But despite the searing heat that evening it was clear that some just like it hot.

              As the PawSox game was winding down, Ray Ethier, 60, a former union electrician, chatted with his friend, George Panas, 59, of Spumoni’s Restaurant.

             “I don’t mind the heat.  I just don’t like this humidity,” he candidly admitted.  However, Ethier acknowledged that the heat has slowed him down a bit, because “it’s too hot to play golf.”

            Panas doesn’t mind the searing outside heat either, or even working in a hot kitchen.

            “When people are sweating buckets in the kitchen, I feel as cool as a cucumber,” he said.

            Fifty-seven-year old Stan Lachut, a retired Pawtucket school teacher, waited with his wife Beverly, for darkness and for the fireworks show to begin. Standing by the barbecue tent and surrounded by more than 200-plus guests of the Pawtucket Firework’s Committee, the Cumberland residents said the heat’s not a problem for him, either.

            “Being outside in summer is a time you can spend with your family and friends,” he said, whereas “colder temperatures force people to stay inside buildings.”

            On the other hand, not everybody like summer’s hot days

           Ttemperatures in the mid-90s, combined with high humidity, can become uncomfortable and a serious health hazard for seniors.  And many are heeding the advice of experts gleaned from radio, television, and local newspaper articles about how to cope with the scorching summer heat.

           Patricia A. Nolan, M.D.,  the state’s top health official, gave her advise on surviving Rhode Island’s current heat wave.

            Seniors, small children and the mentally ill are the most susceptible to health problems from searing summer heat waves, said Nolan, who serves as the director of Rhode Island’s Department of health.  High temperatures can be especially dangerous to persons’ with cardiac and respiratory probems and to mentally ill patients taking psychotropic medications, she said.

            She noted that psychotropic medications make it harder for an individual to cool down.

            According to Noran, the early symptoms of heat-related illnesses include muscle cramps in the arms, hands, abdomen and legs.  Muscle cramps are a result of dehydration and salt loss, primary problems associated with heat stress.  Additionally, Nolan said that fainting in the heat is another early symptom

           If someone faints because of the heat, take the person into a cool place and cool them off by using a wet, cool cloth, Nolan recommends.

          “You want to sponge people down and fan them to reduce their body heat,” she says.

          Heat exhaustion, or heat-stork, is a more serious problem related to dehydration caused from high temperatures Nolan stated.  “Feelings of complete exhaustion, confusion, nausea or vomiting are real danger signs,” she said, adding, “If this occurs, you must get the body temperature down by addition fluids through intravenous methods.”

          To successfully beat the heat, seniors should cut back on outside physical activities and drink plenty of water, Nolan recommends.

          While water is the best fluid to drink on a hot day, fruit juice can also be considered a viable substitute.

          “Cooling off with a cold beer is not the best plan,” Nolan said, noting that alcohol coffee, tea and soda are loaded with caffeine, which can increase the changes of dehydration.

           “Seniors who tend to be most vulnerable to heat are those who don’t have a way to get cool for a part of the day,” Nolan said.  “One of the reasons heat waves affect the elderly more than the general population is because seniors are isolated, can’t get to a cool place, don’t have air conditioning and are afraid to open their windows at night when it finally cools down.”

            Nolan warned that with temperatures in the mid-90s, staying indoors in a really hot house or apartment is not the best thing for seniors to do.

           “Go to an air-conditioned shopping mall, see a movie, visit a restaurant, or get yourself into an air-conditioned space,” she recommended.  “If you can do this for an hour on a really hot day, you can protect yourself from serious health-related problems.”

          Sometimes seniors get into trouble during days with high temperatures because they just don’t realize the danger,” Nolan noted.

          During these days, it becomes important to monitor elderly parents or older friends, she says.

           “Call on them every day to make sure they are coping with the heat.  Take them out to a cool place, like a shopping mall, a library, or a restaurant to let them cool off.”

           In Rhode Island, some seniors tend not to adjust their behaviors to the heat because it’s only going to be hot for a few days,” Nolan says.

           However, adjustments are fairly easy to make, she noted, stating that not making them can be hazardous to their health, and perhaps even deadly.

          Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who writes about aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at