Preparing for a Changing Population — What It Means to Age Successfully

A paper by Columbia Mailman School’s John Rowe, MD in the journal Health Affairs outlines the challenges we face as the U.S. becomes an “aging society.” This transformation has major implications for our core institutions which were not designed to support this changing population distribution. 

“While the most disadvantaged are at greatest risk of losses in well-being and economic security, it is apparent that middle-income elders will also face challenges related to education, work and retirement, healthcare and housing in the next 10 years,” noted Rowe. “Low savings rates and the added financial burden of longer lives are conspiring to place previously neglected middle income elders at risk of depleting all their resources and becoming entirely dependent on social security toward the end of their lives.”

The Research Network on an Aging Society, chaired by Rowe, has been working to identify the elements of a successful adaptation with innovative initiatives to support a large population approaching age 60. They developed the Aging Society Index — a model for measuring the success of adapting to this demographic transformation based on 5 principal domains:

  • Productivity and Engagement
  • Well-Being
  • Equity
  • Cohesion
  • Security

“While policy makers remain preoccupied with Medicare and Social Security, a far more effective strategy would be to consider all the principal domains of society that affect the capacity of older people to age successfully, and not just the poor,” said Rowe.

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