America is aging. There were approximately 33.5 million persons over the age of 65 in the year 1995, having increased by 2.3 million since the year 1990. While the aging population increased by seven percent during those five years, the population under the age of 65 grew by only five percent.
Moreover, the older population of the country is expected to continue growing, especially between 2010 and 2030, when the generation known as “baby boom” reaches the age of 65. Experts predict that there will be around 70 million aged persons by the year 2030. At that time, these persons would represent around twenty percent of the U.S. population (“Facts about Law and the Elderly”).
It is but natural that the growing elderly population of the United States would have its unique needs in terms of both healthcare and legal protection. Most people associate old age with physical decline, and both researchers and a large number of elderly folks do know for a fact that with old age increase healthcare needs, including doctor visits and the use of medication.
Older people have to think about long term care, and answer questions such as, how would they meet their healthcare needs if they run out of financial resources; and who would make healthcare decisions for them if they suddenly lose their mental health because of Alzheimer’s Disease, etc.? Doyle Jr. et al. explain such healthcare worries of the elderly with a legal solution in mind:
For some…the transition into old age will be filled with concerns regarding healthcare maintenance, financial instability, health and life insurance coverage, and long-term careneeds.
The majority of adults facing these concerns will do so as a result of the ill effects of the aging process, physical/mental illness, or disability that has impacted or will impact their ability to perform a major life function, such as self care or other activities of daily living sorely compromising their independence. In these instances, the person with the disability and/or his family will be faced with a host of choices regarding future care and well being.
Fortunately legal vehicles are available, and in some instances necessary, to assist in decision- making, healthcare planning, and resource management of the affected individual.
Unfortunately, there are times when the health of the elderly is impacted by abusive caretakers. Such caretakers may mentally, emotionally, or even physically abuse the elderly, often compounding the problems of declining health for the aged. The law of the United States takes elder abuse into account, and in cases where the health of the older person is impacted by abuse, the law deals with the abusers very seriously (“Facts about Law”).
Another issue of great importance in the area of healthcare and law impacting the elderly is that of “capacity,” which is defined as the “ability to understand relevant information and make decisions to meet one’s essential daily needs.”
Given that an older person may easily lose his or her capacity through a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s, the states of America have developed various tests to determine whether an individual has the capacity for decision making.
Some of these tests are based on the knowledge about a specific condition affecting a person. Mental sickness, dementias, and mental retardation are all known to make individuals lose their capacity. Some of the tests used by states are also based on whether an individual has the power to make decisions and to communicate those decisions.
The ability of a person to manage finances and to make healthcare decisions is also taken into consideration when deciding whether a person has “capacity” by law (“Facts about Law”).