Every year in the United States, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) conducts a survey called The United States of Aging Survey. The survey was conducted for the fourth time in 2015, and a total of 1,650 individuals were interviewed over the telephone. While the majority of these interviewees were individuals who were over the age of 60, the survey also spoke to professionals who work closely with individuals in this specific age group who are familiar with their needs. Examples of these professionals include physicians, pharmacists, credit union managers, and staff members from Area Agencies on Aging. Below are just a few highlights from the information gathered in the 2015 survey.
Top Concerns regarding Adults in their Later Years
One integral part of The United States of Aging Survey is to interview both seniors and professionals who work with seniors about some of their top concerns. Interestingly, the concerns that older Americans have for themselves are very different from those that professionals hold for them. Among individuals age 60 and older, their top fears were as follows:
- 40% reported that they were afraid of not being able to maintain their physical health
- 35% reported that they were most worried about memory loss, specifically
- 32% stated that they had concerns regarding their ability to maintain their overall mental health more broadly
These concerns related to health and mental well-being differed significantly from the concerns expressed by professionals who work with older individuals. Among these professionals, the two top fears expressed were:
- Individuals’ ability to recognize and protect themselves from fraud/financial scams, a fear expressed by 43% of interviewees
- Older adults’ ability to access affordable housing, which was mentioned by 38% of those contacted
While both of these opinions need to be respected, it does highlight the distinction between what seniors themselves feel is most important compared to what those working with them might focus on.
Opinions on Being Prepared for the Aging Process
Interviewers asked both sets of respondents about how prepared they felt America’s population was for the process of aging, and once again, there were significant disparities between the answers given by seniors themselves and those offered by the professionals who work with these individuals.
When asked if they feel that U.S. seniors are “prepared overall for the process of aging,” 86% of older adults surveyed stated that they felt this group was prepared, whereas only 77% of professionals expressed the same feelings.
When asked to quantify things more specifically, 42% of older individuals stated that they think seniors are “very prepared” for the aging process, compared to only 10% of professionals who would state that seniors are “very prepared.”
Professionals Encourage Increased Focus on Financial Well-Being
As demonstrated earlier in the survey results, professionals who work with seniors have concerns related to the financial health of this section of the population. Again, the two greatest fears that these professionals expressed in connection to those aging were worries about fraud/financial scams and the availability of affordable housing options.
However, opinions regarding financial stability vary widely between seniors and the professionals who work with them. Specifically, when asked if seniors will need support in managing their finances as they age, only 19% of older adults interviewed responded in the affirmative, compared to 86% of professionals who were asked.
When asked more specifically about the expected costs of health care for older individuals, only 3% of professionals stated that they were confident that seniors would be able to afford their health care costs throughout the aging process. This differed significantly from the 43% of older adults interviewed who said they were confident that they could afford their health care costs as they aged.
Another topic covered in the most recent United States of Aging survey dealt with individuals’ living situations; the answers to these questions highlighted the fact that most of those interviewed would prefer to stay put in their homes and maintain relationships with those in their communities. Specifically, more than half of those interviewed, 58%, stated that they had not changed residences in over 20 years. Additionally, 65% said that they wanted to stay in their present residence for the rest of their life.
However, these figures don’t exclude the fact that many older adults recognize the need for specific changes and additions to their homes as they continue to age. As such, 62% said that they were interested in and would like there to be more services that specifically help seniors with repairs and modifications to their homes.
Overall Senior Satisfaction
Finally, seniors were interviewed about how satisfied they were in different areas of their lives, and the results showed that the vast majority of older adults surveyed are satisfied with their relationships, mental health, and living situations. Specifically, 78% of respondents stated that they were satisfied with the relationships they had with family members and friends, 73% were satisfied with their housing/living situations, and 71% expressed satisfaction at their overall mental well being.
However, there were a few categories for which less than half of those interviewed expressed overall satisfaction. Specifically, only 41% of seniors interviewed said that they were satisfied with their financial situations, and just 40% reported being satisfied with their physical health.
The information provided by this annual survey gives some incredible insights into the things that matter most to older adults as they age, and things that these individuals’ loved ones should keep an eye out for, in terms of making sure their loved ones' needs are met and their fears addressed appropriately.
However, the input of professionals who work with seniors is also invaluable, as these people are likely to have experience with certain dangers and problems the individuals in their care may experience—dangers that might not ever cross the minds of seniors or their loved ones. As such, even though there are significant disparities shown in many parts of this survey between the seniors and professionals interviewed, it is important for family members and those in the elder care industry to keep all of this information in mind as we work to make sure that America’s aging population is effectively provided for and kept safe.
To view an infographic summarizing the findings of the 2015 survey, you can click here.