America

90 Is The New 85: 'Oldest Old' Population Is Expanding Rapidly

Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City last month. He's part of the oldest old generation. i i

Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City last month. He's part of the oldest old generation. John Minchillo/AP hide caption

itoggle caption John Minchillo/AP
Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City last month. He's part of the oldest old generation.Â

Activist musician Pete Seeger, 92, at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City last month. He's part of the oldest old generation.Â

John Minchillo/AP

From 720,000 in the year 1980 to more than 1.9 million in 2010, the number of Americans who are 90 years of age or older has nearly tripled, the Census Bureau reports today in its first comprehensive look at the over-90 population.

And according to the Census Bureau, "over the next four decades, this population is projected to more than quadruple."

The always trendy actress Betty White is set to join the 90 club in January. i i

The always trendy actress Betty White is set to join the 90 club in January. Matt Sayles/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Matt Sayles/AP
The always trendy actress Betty White is set to join the 90 club in January.

The always trendy actress Betty White is set to join the 90 club in January.

Matt Sayles/AP

The trend has researchers wondering whether the definition of the "oldest old" — generally, those 85 and older — should be reconsidered and start the group at 90 instead.

Driven, as you would expect, by improvements in health care, the trend of course presents challenges. Census writes that "a nation's oldest-old population consumes resources disproportionately to its overall population size, and its growth has a significant impact on societal and family resources, including pension and retirement income, health care costs, and intergenerational relationships."

Some of the details in the report:

— "People 90 and older now comprise 4.7 percent of the older population (age 65 and older), as compared with only 2.8 percent in 1980. By 2050, this share is likely to reach 10 percent."

— "According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy at age 65 in the United States increased from 12.2 years in 1929–1931 to 18.5 years in 2006."

— "People at very old ages are also expected to live longer. Today a person 90 years of age is expected to live on average another 4.6 years (versus 3.2 years in 1929–1931), and those who pass the century mark are projected to live another 2.3 years."

— "Women aged 90+ outnumber 90+ men nearly 3 to 1."

— "Over 80 percent of the 90+ women are widowed, while more than 40 percent of the 90+ men are married."

— Nearly 20 percent of 90- to 94-year-olds live in nursing homes. Among thsoe 95-99, about 31 percent are in nursing homes. And in the 100+ population, 38.2 percent live in nursing homes.

— Getting around, as you might imagine, is the group's most common problem. "Difficulty doing errands alone and mobility-related limitations are the two most common types of disability for the 90+."

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