The Surprise of the Century

For those who were born in the 20th century before 1950, the 21st century holds many surprises. One of those surprises is that increased access to health care during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s has lead to increased life spans. But we have not yet found a way to stem the tide of getting old. So, we live longer as older people now than anyone has in the past.

One of the side effects of this reality is that the way that we die has changed significantly. On average in the 1960s people admitted to a hospital who died there did so within 72 hours of admission. Those who survived were relatively young and a short rehabilitation stay was all that was needed to return home and resume living life.

In 21st century we both live longer and take longer to die. 19 months on average for a male and 30 months on average for a female. Moreover, we die of things that take a while to kill us. We die of slow degenerative disorders rather than sudden, merciful, attacks. This means that the vast majority of people alive today will die in a nursing home. It is the new American way.

Many people deny this reality with phrases like, “we will use our retirement” or the kids will take care of us. But, the kids who, in the 1960s were in their 30s and 40s and had the strength and stamina to care for an elderly person are now the senior citizens who themselves are beginning to suffer the ravages of aging. They very often cannot provide care.

Planning for retirement was the mantra of the 80s and 90s. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon to pack away savings into brokered accounts so that when they needed extra income to support their lifestyle, they would have the money. In reality, since most people’s needs scale down to a very simple level as they age, that money just sits there, waiting to be eaten up by the health care system at life’s end.  Planning for retirement should end at retirement. Planning for the expenses of final care should begin immediately thereafter.

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