Black Aging in America
The time for ending systematic racism in America (and our world) is here and now.
It’s time for all people to stand up and say:
- Black lives matter.
- I see you.
- I hear you.
- And I will be part of the change.
In addition to listening, learning, and making a change, anyone who works with the elderly needs to educate themselves on the state of black aging in America. Because black aging matters.
Black Older Adults in the America
Black older adults currently make up 9% of the older adult population, but that number is growing. It is projected that by the year 2060 black older adults with will make up 12.8% of the population (1).
In total there are 5.2 million black older adults (> age 65) in the United States. That number is projected to rise to 12.1 million in the year 2060 (1).
Black Older Adults Living in Poverty
Most older adults live on a fixed income. However, black older adults are disproportionality more likely to live in poverty. The poverty rate for all older adults in the United States is 9.2%. But for black older adults that number is more than doubled at 19.3% (1).
For reference, the median personal income for all older men is $32,654 annually. For older black men their median personal income is $22,485. That’s a big difference (1).
Health Disparities in Black Older Adults
Black older adults are also more likely to experience health disparities; meaning they are more likely than their white counterparts to have a lower life expectancy and have an increase risk of hypertension, diabetes, dementia, stroke, or cancer (2).
Black older adults are also less likely to self-report excellent health status (1). The health disparities of black older adults are real and come from multiple causes (including systemic racism).
Black Older Adults and Race-Related Stress
Research (yes, research and not just word of mouth) has shown that black Americans experience both subtle and overt forms of racism (2). Race-related stressors have a negative effect on the health of black older adults and is not something to be ignored (2).
Black older adults are likely to have experienced a lifetime of race-related stress (2). And to be clear by “race-related stress”, I mean they have experienced racism. And it impacts their physical and mental health.
Racism can result in limited access to education, employment, healthcare, housing, wages and even political participation (2,3). No wonder black older adults experience greater health disparities. It is a system wide issue that contributes to poor health outcomes in black Americans.
You can learn more about how to better address race-related stress in this video:
A Retirement Crisis
The systematic racism that exists in the United States has contributed to lower levels of wealth among many older black Americans (3). And the reality is that we need money for retirement.
Black older adults are more likely to be placed in poorer quality nursing homes than their white counter parts (3). In an ideal world we should be working to keep older adults out of nursing homes. So, they can age in place (at home!) for as long as possible (3).
What Can We Do to Support Black Older Adults?
The American Psychology Association (APA) has several recommendations on what health-care providers (that can include caregivers too) can do to help (2):
- Understand the impacts of racism
- Listen with empathy
- Create safe spaces
- Support, strengthen, and enhance resilience
- Celebrate culture
- Be mindful of triggers
- Be aware
- Refer to mental health services and support
Being aware is important. Being aware of our own beliefs, assumptions, and values. Change happens when we look within, seek to understand, and be dedicated to making a change.
Where Can I Learn More?
There are many resources to learn more about how you can support black older adults.
- Black and African American Elders
- Advocates for African American Elders
- The National Caucus & Center on Black Aging, Inc
- Health and Health Care of African American Older Adults
- Facing the Divide: Psychology’s Conversation on Race and Health
- Profile of African Americans Age 65 and Over
- Race, Old Age Vulnerabilities, and Long-Term Care
- African American Older Adults and Race-Related Stress
You can learn more about the psychological and physical effects of race-related stress here:
We Are Just Getting Started
Black Lives Matter isn’t a fad. It isn’t going away. Because change needs to happen. We are just getting started. Black older adults in our communities’ matter. Black aging matters.
I am a geriatric dietitian. In my field only 2.3% of all dietitians are black. But there are amazing groups out there working to help change this number.
Please consider donating to Diversify Dietetics to support increasing the racial and ethic diversity in the field of nutrition by empowering nutrition leaders of color: Donate Today.
- Profile of African Americans Age 65 and Over. The Administration for Community Living website. https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/2018AA_OAProfile.pdf. Accessed June 7, 2020.
- African American Older Adults and Race-Related Stress: How Aging and Health-Care Providers Can help. American Psychological Association (APA) website. https://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/african-american-stress.pdf. Accessed June 7, 2020.
- Race, Old Age Vulnerabilities, and Long-Term Care. Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise White Paper. https://www.kenaninstitute.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/RaceOldAgeVulnerabilitiesAndLongTermCare_04172019.pdf. Access June 7, 2020.