Infographic: The Cost of Aging in America

Excerpt from Cost of Aging in America Infographic
An excerpt from the infographic; be sure to see the whole thing below!

[This is a guest post by Emily Newhook, of the George Washington University School of Public Health. Earlier this year, they published this interesting infographic, titled “The Cost of Aging in America.” 

I like that this infographic mentions chronic conditions and multimorbidity, although it would be stronger if it included more information on just how common multimorbidity is (and the association with cost). I also very much like that the infographic mentions long-term care cost and the impact on family caregivers. 

Now how to integrate life and care models? That’s literally a trillion dollar question, and hopefully this graphic will spur people to keep thinking about it.

Last but not least, I would say to GW that perhaps we shouldn’t frame the key question as “Can we afford to get older?”

Instead, we should ask ourselves: “How can we effectively and compassionately care for an aging population, at a cost we can all sustain?” This way we put the care before the money.]

The Cost of Aging in America: What’s at Stake?

Americans are living longer, but can we afford to get older?

This question is at the heart of The Cost of Aging in America, a new infographic produced by the online MPH (MPH@GW) offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. Created to help explain some of the most extreme and pressing financial challenges faced by aging individuals, caregivers, and health care professionals, the project also describes a few practices and processes our larger health care system might adopt in order to provide more high-quality, affordable care.

So what accounts for Americans’ increasing life spans? In short, our methods of treating the ailments that used to kill us earlier and faster — such as tuberculosis and malaria — have improved. And though advances in medical science have helped curtail the spread of these diseases, we haven’t been able to combat degenerative, preventable or chronic conditions — such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease — quite as effectively.

On top of this, aging Americans’ income levels haven’t kept pace with rising out-of-pocket costs — on average, these costs are expected to nearly double between 2010 and 2040 — and many individuals, especially those with multiple chronic conditions, must contend with high prescription drug costs. Finally, the number of people most likely to require expensive long-term care (Americans spent roughly $385 billion this in 2011 alone) or suffer disability is increasing: Between 2012 and 2050, AARP reports that this group will triple, growing by 224%.

But aging Americans aren’t the only ones under pressure. AARP estimates that family caregivers provided an unbelievable $450 billion in unpaid care in 2009 alone. That’s more than Medicaid long-term services ($119 billion) and supports spending and the amount people paid privately ($67 billion) that year combined. In addition to caring for an aging parent or loved one, many caregivers are responsible for young children or other family members, despite limited financial, logistical and emotional resources: In 2013, 15 percent of middle-aged adults were supporting both an elderly parent and a child. These statistics don’t even account for the number of aging spousal caregivers who are simultaneously contending with their own expensive and exhausting medical conditions.

Furthermore, when it comes to professional caregivers, we’re simply not training or paying them enough. Between 2012 and 2022, careers for paid caregivers — specifically personal care aides and home health aides — are expected to grow by 49 and 48 percent, respectively; however, the average salaries for these occupations hover around a paltry $20,000, the training required is often minimal, and the turnover rate is high.

So what are some proposed solutions to these challenges? Integrated care models (i.e. resources and organizations that help individuals continue treatment regimens outside the doctor’s office); better and more robust investments in direct-care providers; and improved health IT communication are just a few complicated but worthwhile processes that would help improve the affordability of care and our quality of life as we age.

Of course, a single graphic doesn’t provide a comprehensive portrait of these concepts or the economic concerns outlined above, nor does it capture the varied and nuanced experiences of those facing them. We hope, however, that it encourages more frequent (and frank) conversations among health care professionals who collaborate with aging individuals and their caregivers.

With these things in mind, how can our healthcare system better accommodate a growing aging population? How do we provide better support to caregivers, both paid and unpaid? How can health care professionals help families contend with competing financial and clinical demands? Is there anything we’re doing especially poorly – or especially well? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Brought to you by MPH@GW, an MPH degree


  1. two ways would be to be sure that medicare drug costs are more competitive like medicaid and increase family leave and increase the deductions that family caregivers can get for taking care of a loved one

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