Papalia and Olds (1995) report that by the year 2000, Americans aged 65 and older will constitute 13 percent of the country's total population; this as compared with 7 percent in 1950. By the year 2030, it is expected that the number of people 65 years and up will have risen to 20 percent; currently, about 30.4 million Americans are 65 years of age or older, making this the fastest-growing age group in the United States (Papalia & Olds, 1995).
Two basic reasons are commonly cited for the "graying" of the American population. According to Schneider and Guralnik (1990), these reasons are: (1) the high birthrates of the late 1800s and the early to mid 1900s (combined with high immigration rates); and (2) the extension in life expectancy that has arisen from advances in medicine and medical technology.
Although most older and elderly people are in relatively good health, both physical and mental health problems become more frequent with age (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1990). And, while most older people live in the community (99 percent of people ages 65 to 75 and 80 percent of people over 85 years), there is a small percentage who suffer confusion, forgetfulness and personality changes that seriously impairs their ability to function. Regarding this percentage, Papalia and Olds (1995) report that:
The general term for such apparent intellectual deterioration is dementia. The word "senility" frequently used to describe dementia in older people is not a true medical diagnosis but a "wastebasket" term used for a wide range of symptoms. (Papalia & Olds, 1995, p. 483)
Because of the variation in cognitive impairment symptoms, dementia can be difficult to diagnose. However, it is estimated that about 3 million older and elderly Americans do suffer from dementia with about 15 percent of these individuals suffering from forms of the disorder that can be cured or alleviated with correct diagnosis ...