U.S. Life Expectancy Has Declined for the First Time Since 1993

Different age generations of the male and female person. People

Last Wednesday, The Economist’s “Business of Longevity” conference took place, attracting world-renowned experts in aging. One of the main themes of the conference was the need to change the way we think about longevity, as we are living longer, more productive lives. Coincidentally, on the same day the conference began, a study was released that life expectancy has actually declined.

How Long Can We Expect to Live?

According to the study on mortality in the U.S., life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2015 was 78.8 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2014. The age-adjusted death rate increased 1.2% from 724.6 deaths per 100,000 standard population in 2014 to 733.1 in 2015.

The 10 leading causes of death in 2015 remained the same as in 2014, and included heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide.

Are these Findings Alarming?

“There’s a chance that the latest data, from 2015, could be just a one-time blip. In fact, a preliminary analysis from the first two quarters of 2016suggests that may be the case,” says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new report. “We’ll have to see what happens in the second half of 2016,” he says.

How These Findings Affected Information Gleaned From Longevity Conference

The Economist’s “Business of Longevity: Innovation for an Aging World” event was held in an effort to ignite a global dialogue around opportunities in aging and the most recent innovations driving the aging market.

Based on my research, it seems that speakers were aware of the new survey findings at the conference, and that they are taking a wait and see approach to them (not necessarily altering their viewpoints). The following highlights are important findings from the conference:

The Need to Redefine Longevity

Longevity and health care are typically seen as the same thing. But, in reality, they’re not. “Longevity is so much more,” noted Thomas Goetz, co-founder and CEO of Iodine — a health technology company. He urged the audience to look at the bigger picture and recognize that personal longevity is impacted by our financial situation, social environment, and institutional policies.

There is new thinking about aging products and solutions. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made an announcement that will affect the nation’s 30 million older Americans suffering from hearing loss. Effective immediately, the FDA said it no longer requires adults to receive a medical evaluation or sign a waiver before buying most hearing aids. This news may help prove Goetz’s point that aging solutions are not purely medical in nature.

According to the Institute of Medicines’ report, “Retooling for an Aging America,” our aging population is the most diverse the nation has ever seen, with more education, increased longevity, more widely dispersed families, and more racial and ethnic diversity, making their needs much different than previous generations. For more details on longevity, and information about this and other research, please read our article on the subject.

Financial Problems of Older People

The traditional retirement age of 65 is a “false age” that creates financial stress. As more of us live into our 80s and 90s, the economics of a two- or three-decade retirement are simply not feasible anymore for most people.

• Workers need to plan and save for retirement at earlier ages.

• Employers must play a more significant role in the new reality of aging.

• Flexible retirement ages, transitional work options, and job creation for people over 65 were all cited as examples of what should be on the to-do list at businesses and nonprofits.

Many employers don’t have the aging workforce and its unique needs on the “company agenda.”

• Most people are afraid to signal any interest in leaving the workforce. This prevents the collaboration between employers and employees that is imperative to drive change.

When it comes to financial planning, everyone has different needs, situations, and goals. Should you ever want expert guidance with your financial planning process, remember that qualified assistance is available at The Farr Law Firm. Please read our recent article on financial uncertainty in retirement and the need for financial planning for more details.

Loneliness and Isolation

• Loneliness and isolation have the same negative health effects as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

The solution to the problem of loneliness among older people is two-fold: part human and part technology.

The idea of a robot to combat loneliness was met with enthusiasm and skepticism in equal measure.

• There are merits of using virtual reality to keep the elderly engaged. But the best solution for isolation would always be live interactions with friends and family.

If you or a loved one is experiencing loneliness, research has shown that it is a major risk to healthy aging, and is linked to a decline in mobility, decrease in cognitive function, depression, and early death. For more details on this topic and tips for dealing with loved ones experiencing loneliness, please read our recent article.

What Other Countries Are Doing

An international panel of experts presented a fascinating look at how their countries have approached longevity, as follows:

Japan, which has the world’s fastest-aging society, is proactively planning for the future impact to its culture and economy. Part of Japan’s strategy focuses on large investments in robotics and smart homes to counter a lack of caregivers there (a problem the U.S. is expected to increasingly face, too).

Italy has tackled its caregiver shortage differently. As the first country where people over 65 have surpassed those 20 and under, Italians have taken what Roberto Bernabei, president of Italia Longeva (a scientific network of the Ministry of Health), describes as a “DIY” approach. There, families are leveraging 1.5 million immigrant workers to work as in-home caregivers. The solution has been quiet and organic, not one driven by government or policy.

In our recent article, we also looked at France, Canada, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Read it here.

Planning for a Long Life Ahead

Luck and genetics play roles in longevity, of course, but you can’t control that. If you want to better your odds of living longer, focus on what you can do, such as eating healthy, exercising, and cutting down on stress. As you are taking care of yourself and enjoying your life, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors preserve dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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