Population of seniors age 90-plus growing rapidly

The nation’s 90-and-older population nearly tripled over the past three decades, reaching 1.9 million in 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the next four decades, this population is projected to more than quadruple.

Because of increases in life expectancy at older ages, 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 projected to reach 10 percent.

The majority of people 90 and older reported having one or more disabilities, living alone or in a nursing home and graduating from high school. People in this age group also are more likely to be women and to have higher widowhood, poverty and disability rates than people just under this age cutoff.

“Traditionally, the cutoff age for what is considered the ‘oldest old’ has been age 85,” said Census Bureau demographer Wan He, “but increasingly people are living longer and the older population itself is getting older. Given its rapid growth, the 90-and-older population merits a closer look.”

According to the report, while about only 1 percent of people in their upper 60s and 3 percent in their upper 70s were nursing home residents, the proportion rose to about 20 percent for those in their lower 90s, more than 30 percent for people in their upper 90s, and nearly 40 percent for centenarians.

While nearly all people in their 90s who lived in a nursing home had a disability (98.2 percent), the vast majority (80.8 percent) of those who did not live in a nursing home also had one or more disabilities. Difficulty doing errands alone and performing general mobility-related activities of walking or climbing stairs were the most common types, which indicates that many who live in households may need assistance with everyday activities.

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