New Thinking Needed About the Oldest of Us

Christopher Glenn, Editor in Chief
7/7/2014

For most of us, the Sicilian toast, “Cent’anni” came to our attention through “The Godfather” where it ironically wished 100 years of happiness to characters who would often be dead within hours.

For most of our history, only the very rare few enjoyed anything near  such longevity. Recent, well-documented trends show that is changing, and quickly.

Census data cited in a much-publicized 2011 report showed that from 1980 to 2010 the 90-and-older population has steadily increased and this trend is expected to continue into the middle of the century. Two age groups are leading the way. “Between 2020 and 2030,” the authors report, “the population aged 65–89 ... is projected to increase by 32 percent and the 90 and over by 21 percent. However, in the following decade (2030s) the 90-and-older population is projected to experience a 71 percent jump.”1

This week, Prevent Blindness further refined projections on the issue, focusing on the impact of vision-related diseases and their cost in the very elderly population (See p. 3).

The report projects that “By the year 2032, the baby-boomer population will have almost fully moved into the Medicare ranks and the rapid growth of the population from ages 65 to the mid 80s will cause dramatic increases in the prevalence and costs of vision problems. In the following decades, the confluence of the aging baby-boomers’ numbers and increased longevity will drive spectacular growth in the elderly population, which will lead to the age group of persons 90 and older exhibiting by far the highest rates of growth in the prevalence of vision loss and eye disease of any age group.”

The leading edge of the trend is, indeed, already here. Even 60 Minutes got in on the story with a recent extended report.

Obviously, the treatment options and decisions ophthalmologists need to make in managing a rapidly growing population of patients with long-term, vision-threatening diseases are becoming more complex.

We’re fortunate this month to feature the highly practical and timely advice of Dr. Carla J. Siegfried, who describes her approach to these “Super Seniors.” In this case, the condition is glaucoma, but the approaches and tips are useful for almost anyone interacting with members of this population. Our thanks to Dr. Siegfried, and Cent’anni!





1. 90+ in the United States: 2006–2008. ACS-17. American Community Survey Reports. Wan He and Mark N. Muenchrath. Issued November 2011.