22 November 2006

Living old

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living old
We are living longer. But are we living better?

“With 35 million elderly people in America, “the old, old” — those over 85 — are now considered the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. While medical advances have enabled an unprecedented number of Americans to live longer and healthier lives, this new longevity has also had unintended consequences. For millions of Americans, living longer also means serious chronic illness and a protracted physical decline that can require an immense amount of care, often for years and sometimes even decades. Yet just as the need for care is rising, the number of available caregivers is dwindling. With families more dispersed than ever and an overburdened healthcare system, many experts fear that we are on the threshold of a major crisis in care.”

Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor, producers of the American investigative TV programme Frontline, investigated the crisis and explored the new realities of aging in America in the 60-minute feature “Living Old”, which aired yesterday evening on PBS (the public broadcaster in the US).

The full programme can be viewed online in Quicktime and Windows Media. The website also contains extended interviews; profiles of the featured individuals and families; an interactive map featuring the demographics of America’s elderly, and the comparative costs of nursing homes, assisted living and home care; facts and stats; special readings; and information where to go for further help.

Frontline’s Living Old website

Read also this interesting reflection by Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. An excerpt: “What’s distinctive about old age now, and what makes the lives of the so-called old old interesting, is what this generation of 80- and 90-somethings and centurions brings to it. To that end I wish someone had asked the people in this program about Europe, Ellis Island, cars, the Roaring Twenties, cocaine, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, ghettos, the war, the New Deal, polio, civil rights, socialism, washing machines, swimming pools, the Kennedy assassination, the lunar landing. And what, if anything, they make of the Internet.

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