Some Of Us Will Live Too Long

Can we live too long? How is that possible? A recent editorial in the Washington Post hinted at the problem:

“Wait,” you may say. “I thought life expectancy was decreasing.”There are two trends happening in the US. Yes, life expectancy is getting shorter overall. But, this is also a classic case of the “haves and the have nots.” Some people are dying sooner. But others are living a lot longer.

In my geriatric practice, I’m amazed at the number of people living into their late 90s. Most express surprise at living so long. Some are in amazing health. In fact, I have many patients who still work, well into their 80s.

We are making amazing strides in prolonging life.TAVR is such an example. In TAVR, a stenotic aortic valve is easily replaced in someone as old as 95, magically improving health for the recipient. Initially, I was a skeptic. But, I’ve found the results to be amazing. Someone 95 years old may now live another five or ten years. It sounds ridiculous, but I’m seeing it happen.

This creates problems.

How do you cover living expenses? Who is your caretaker when you become confused or debilitated? Your “kids” may literally be dying of old age. I am often astonished at the age and poor condition of the “children” who bring in their elderly parents.

Your support group and friends may all be dead. Do we really want to live “forever?”Even people with really bad health habits seem to be easily surviving into their late 80s. They may be on dialysis and a ton of medicines, but they are still getting around. Unfortunately, many need a lot of assistance at home. Most lack the financial reserves to afford such help.

It can be a catastrophe for the families tasked with such care.

The problem is going to dramatically worsen. Most of my elderly patients have something we younger workers can only imagine: A defined pension plan. Unfortunately, defined pension plans are vanishing. A defined pension plan is where you receive a check each month until you die.

Unless you work for the government, you need something else. You have to set aside a big pile of money and hope it lasts long enough until you die

.I recently sat with a financial planner. In his scenarios, he told me he assumes death at age 90. I stopped him: “You may want to rethink that calculation. I saw seven people today 93 or older.”If you retire at age 65, can you live for 30 years on savings alone? Probably, not! There are expenses you cannot imagine.

Medical care expenses and drug costs will surprise you.

Most people have no long term care insurance. Every week, I have to tell the shocked family of an elderly debilitated patient: “Yes, your family member needs assisted living or in-home care. No, Medicare does not cover that. You have to cover that. Plan on $6000 per month. Sorry. It’s just the way it is.”Tech founders are branching into healthcare and promising to make us all “live forever!”Can we survive it?

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Steven Mussey MD

Steven Mussey, M.D. is a physician in Internal Medicine, practicing in the Fredericksburg area for more than twenty years. He grew up in Springfield, Virginia and earned a degree in Physics from The University of Virginia, Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his medical degree at The George Washington University and was inducted into the medical honor society AOA. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine. He served in the Air Force for four years before entering into private practice. He particularly enjoys geriatric medical care and working with complex patients. For almost a quarter century, he has been practicing with one other Internist. Both doctors enjoy practice in a small, but busy office, and plan on working into their 70s, as long as they can still find their way to the office. Dr. Mussey is also an avid cartoonist and has a weekly cartoon in the local newspaper. He also enjoys cartoon animation and has had several public service cartoons playing regularly on the television cable systems.

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1 Response

  1. Pat says:

    No Steven, ultimately we can’t survive it.

    You always get more of what you subsidize, and we subsidize the elderly with Medicare. Had longevity been funded by adapting to sociological changes, and constrained by actual market forces, all of these proper questions you pose would have been better answered. But no, we decided that Granny and Gramps had a RIGHT to play pickle ball in The Villages for decades at a reduced cost courtesy of a taxpayer-funded pyramid scheme.

    Honest people have to ask: Is lifespan in part an economic good that can be traded between generations and weighed against other priorities? What will our longevity be after a catastrophic economic collapse, brought about because selfish retirees have turned our society’s wealth into a national mausoleum?

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