The last time it happened, the world was at war, and one of history’s worst influenza pandemics was ravaging the country. That’s why health scientists were shocked at the recently released report of U.S. life expectancy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: the CDC survey showed a noticeable drop for the third year in a row. The last time that happened was between 1915 and 1918.
Life Expectancy Shows Significant Decline
According to this recent Popular Science article, the decline in life expectancy – though small – is statistically significant. “The decline in U.S. life expectancy is unlike anything we’ve seen in a century,” the article warns. “For a nation that spends more on healthcare per citizen than almost any other, America isn’t exactly reaping the rewards. Life expectancy has been steadily climbing for decades now, but in the last few years it’s taken a troubling turn in the other direction.” In 2000, average U.S. life expectancy from birth was 76.8 years. By 2014 it had risen to 78.9 years, but in 2015 research showed a drop to 78.7 years, followed by another decline to 78.6 years in 2016. (You can download the entire CDC report – all 87 pages – here.)
The national press was quick to jump on the story. This Washington Post article, for example, called the news of declining life expectancy “a dismal trend” not seen for one hundred years. “Public health and demographic experts reacted with alarm to the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual statistics, which are considered a reliable barometer of a society’s health,” says the Post. “In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades.” The article terms this “an appalling performance” by the U.S.
“Even as we make progress treating cancer, heart disease, and stroke—three of the biggest killers—we’re losing ground on other fronts and have been since 2014,” writes Popular Science. “The CDC highlighted three things that have contributed to American’s shrinking life expectancy in recent years: drug overdoses, chronic liver disease, and suicide.” One news report called these “indicators of despair” and suggested that deeper social causes are at work that are driving people to destructive behaviors.
Opioid Use Drives Down Life Expectancy
The opioid epidemic is a good example. The CDC reports that nearly 64,000 Americans died in 2016 from drug overdoses, of whom two-thirds involved opioids. The death rate from drug overdose soared more than 70 percent in the decade between 2006 and 2016. Seniors are at particular risk of addiction, as described in another Washington Post article, because their addictions attract less attention – and also because doctors tend to over-prescribe these highly addictive painkillers following surgery. Apart from the dangers of addiction, seniors taking opioids are at far greater risk of falling, which can often trigger injuries that lead to immobility, pneumonia, and death.
Among the age groups profiled in the CDC report, seniors fare reasonably well – but there are exceptions. “The death rates for nearly all of the leading causes of death among persons aged 65 and over decreased between 2006 and 2016,” says the CDC, “although the rate of change was not always uniform.” Deaths from heart disease, the leading cause of mortality, have been declining, but the rate of that decline seems to be slowing down in recent years. The rate of death from cancer, by contrast, is dropping more rapidly, about two percent per year since 2010. However, the notable exception to the generally positive news is Alzheimer’s disease. Since 2006, the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease among those 65 and older has gone up 21 percent, from about 193 per 100,000 population to more than 233 in 2016. As people age, the risk of dying from Alzheimer’s disease increases significantly: “In 2016, the population aged 85 and over was more than 50 times as likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease as those aged 65–74 years and more than five times as likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease as those aged 75–84 years.”
Overall, it’s hard not to view the CDC report as an indictment of the U.S. health care system. One official quoted in the Washington Post report said that “the most lamentable aspect of the crises” is that policymakers know which programs work to prolong health, but for a variety of political and economic reasons, many people, especially in rural areas, lack access to needed care. “The frustration that many of us feel is that there are things that could save many lives,” he said, “and we are failing to make those services available.”
Health Care Consumers are being “Duped,” Says Rajiv
Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions goes one step further: he asserts that American health care consumers are mesmerized into thinking that there’s a drug or a surgery or a high-tech solution for everything. “Because we are duped by the American health industry,” says Rajiv, “we pay more and more today for less and less. No other business in America works like this! If the people who build cars or make computers or grow our food had the track record of the medical industry, consumers would revolt. I’m afraid we are in for darker times unless people become educated, begin to focus on prevention, and make the effort to understand their options.”
Choose the Right Professionals to Guide You
Here at AgingOptions, our advice to patients – especially seniors – is that you have to start thinking and acting like a consumer when it comes to your health care. Experience shows that older patients have a greater tendency than younger ones to take doctors at their word and never ask challenging questions. We say the time for that kind of acquiescence is long past. With costs rising and doctors spending less and less time with their patients, you may have to demand answers from your medical practitioners – and if those answers aren’t forthcoming it might be time to switch doctors. We highly recommend hiring a geriatrician as your primary health care provider, since only these geriatric physicians are properly trained to deal with the unique health care needs of older patients. Contact us here at AgingOptions and we will refer you to a geriatrician in your area.
Planning adequately for retirement means much more than making sure you have the right health insurance or the right doctor. Don’t miss the bigger picture: every facet of your retirement is important, and it’s essential that your finances, legal protection, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication all work together seamlessly. There’s one comprehensive approach to retirement planning that accomplishes this strategic integration, and that’s an AgingOptions LifePlan. We invite you to come spend a few hours with us and find out more, at a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. These popular events take place at locations throughout the Puget Sound area, and there’s likely to be one coming up that’s convenient for you. For details and online registration, click here – or call us for assistance during the week.
Retirement planning doesn’t have to be tedious, complex or disjointed. Discover the power of comprehensive retirement planning with a LifePlan from AgingOptions.