Think about the last time you were at the supermarket. If you felt like you were the youngest person there, it’s possible that you were.
The U.S. population is aging rapidly. Currently, there are more than 54 million older adults (age 65 and up), and by 2040 that number is expected to balloon to 80 million, which is more than twice as many as there were in 2000.1
That’s great news as far as life expectancy goes — a lot of people are clearly living longer, healthier lives. But if you’re in that age bracket, you’re also likely facing a variety of costs that you may not be prepared for.
“At a fundamental level, we live in an ageist, ableist society, where the message is that you don’t want to age at all — that you want to cling to middle age forever,” says Patrick Arbore, Ed.D., director and founder of Elderly Suicide Prevention & Grief Related Services at the Institute on Aging in San Francisco. “So many people have internalized that perspective. We need to bring aging out of the closet and consider what it means to grow older in America today. We should be talking about aging and preparing people for this way before their 60s.”
What are the hidden costs of aging?
What should you be doing to prepare for your golden years? Here’s a look at four types of hidden costs of aging, as well as what you can do to address and offset them as you get older.
Hidden Cost #1: Emotional
One of the primary issues aging adults grapple with is their loss of visibility in society — which puts them at risk of undiagnosed depression, anxiety, and increased loneliness, says Arbore. Besides taking a toll on your quality of life, your mental health can also affect your physical health.
For example, anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with disrupted sleep, and older adults with insomnia are at a higher risk of depression.2 Consequently, sleep issues can introduce a variety of other health problems such as a higher risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.
Solution: Make a conscious effort to stay connected to other people, including younger friends who can help you if needed. “Be willing to connect with people in your community, rather than slipping into that lonely state,” says Arbore. “Maintain as many healthy relationships as you can, not just with your peers but with other age groups. Connections are what bind us to life.”
Hidden Cost #2: Physical
As you get older, your balance will suffer, and falls can become a major health risk. In fact, 36 million older adults in the United States report falling each year. And among those that fall, 37% experience an injury that requires medical attention or activity restrictions.3 Falls can also be caused by unwanted side effects of certain prescription medications you may be taking. Over time, an increase in falls and injuries can lead to a loss of independence.
While you age, your body’s metabolism slows considerably. That can affect everything from how you digest food to how you respond to certain medications. To the latter point, with a slower metabolism, older adults can end up with higher concentrations of medication than intended in their blood. This could lead to potentially harmful adverse drug events (ADEs).4,5
Solution: It’s important to work on fall prevention, Arbore says. Some ways to help yourself or your loved one lower the risk of falls include:
- Regularly perform strength and balance-building exercises.6
- Regularly have your vision checked.6
- Make your home safer by removing things you could trip over.6
- Review your medications with your doctor to see if any of them might make you dizzy or unsteady.6 They may also want to check for potential gene-drug interactions in your medication regimen, as those can also contribute to dizziness and fall risk. This can be done with pharmacogenetic testing through precision health companies like Genomind.
Hidden Cost #3: Financial
Consider where and how you see yourself living as you reach your 80s or 90s, and what it would take to cover those costs. For example, the average cost of in-home care for older adults is $25 an hour — and that can add up quickly, depending on how much care is needed or the type of care needed.7
“Caregivers, usually family members, give up so much to care for older parents,” says Arbore.
Those demands for care tend to increase, diversify, and intensify over time, according to a report from the MIT AgeLab.8 That means they become more burdensome for the caregiver as well. Caregivers see the costs of their responsibilities directly in financial obligations as well as in the opportunity cost of their time spent caregiving.
Solution: To ease the onus of caregiving on your loved ones, “look at long-term care insurance — you need to be prepared for what might happen if you lose autonomy or independence,” says Arbore. Start by thinking about your savings, and plan for the future by having enough money reserved in case you or your partner gets ill. To figure out what you may need to support yourself in the future, Arbore recommends contacting your Area Agency on Aging9 for a referral to a trustworthy financial planner.
Hidden Cost #4: New Health Challenges
Whether it’s heart disease or high blood pressure,10 osteoporosis,11 or cognitive decline,12 certain health conditions become more common as you get older.
“Health issues are going to surface, based on your DNA, that you don’t even think about,” Arbore says. “If you have good health in your 50s and 60s, think about how you can extend that.”
In addition to those DNA-related health concerns, some of the medications you may be taking can make problems with memory and cognitive function worse.13
Solution: A good place to start is with diet and exercise. Staying physically active and making sure you have access to healthy foods can make a huge difference. If you’re still a smoker, Arbore’s advice is to quit. He also suggests keeping your alcohol consumption in the moderate zone if you drink.
If you find yourself experiencing more frequent periods of forgetfulness or other memory problems, talk with your doctor about any new medications they’ve added to your regimen, or recent changes in dosage or frequency of your prescriptions. Modifications may be able to mitigate the effects of your treatment on your cognitive abilities.13
You might also be surprised to learn that inappropriate drug use is another big problem in the aging community: “Look at risky behavior — substance abuse among the elderly is a hidden epidemic,” Arbore says. Additionally, you should keep tabs on the quality of your sleep, because “disrupted sleep has health consequences, including a greater risk of dementia,” he says. “It’s a myth that older people don’t need as much sleep.”
Bottom line: If you’re thinking ahead to your golden years — or you’ve already reached them — it’s always a good idea to make a plan. What better time to start than now?
- Stats on older adults: 2020 Profile of Older Americans (2021)
- Link between insomnia and depression risk: Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network (2021)
- Stats on falls: Older Adult Falls Reported by State (2020)
- Info on older adults and metabolism: Pharmacokinetics in Older Adults (2021)
- Info on how drug metabolism can lead to ADEs: Preventable Adverse Drug Reactions: A Focus on Drug Interactions (2018)
- Fall prevention options: Older Adult Fall Prevention (2021)
- Average cost of in-home care for older adults: How Much Does 24/7 In-Home Care Cost? (2022)
- Study from MIT AgeLab: Hidden Costs of Caring: Where to Turn for Help When You Are the Helper (2017)
- Financial planner referral services: Area Agency on Aging Locator (2022)
- Heart disease/high blood pressure worsen when you get older: Heart Health and Aging (2018)
- Osteoporosis and aging: Osteoporosis (2017)
- Cognitive decline and aging: Healthy Aging (2022)
- Medications’ effects on memory & how to address them: Harvard Medical School Health Publishing (2021)