Washington Post, September 29, 2005.
American society is aging — dramatically, rapidly and, largely, well. More and more of us are living healthily into our seventies and eighties, many well into our nineties. With the baby boomers approaching retirement and birthrates down, we are on the threshold of the first-ever “mass geriatric society.” Historically speaking, it is the best of times to be old.
Yet the blessings of greater longevity are bringing profound new social challenges, several of them highlighted in “Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society,” a report issued today by the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Although we are living healthier longer, many of us are also living long enough to suffer serious age-related chronic illnesses, including dementia. Alzheimer’s disease afflicts more than 4 million Americans, and the number is expected to triple before mid-century. Already the most common trajectory toward death — experienced today by 40 percent of us — is a lengthy period of debility, frailty and dementia lasting not months but years. Already millions of American families are struggling nobly to care for their incapacitated loved ones.