Are they really golden years? | Eastern North Carolina Now

Tom Campbell

    North Carolina is facing a showdown of the ages. Demographers tell us our state is getting older and while the changes may look subtle, they are significant.

    The NC Department of Health and Human Services and US Census data reports that in 2020 the median age of people in our state was 38.9 years. It was just 33.1 in 1990 and 35.3 in 2000. In 2020, 17 percent of us were 65 and older; by 2028 it is projected that 1 in five (20 percent) will be 65 and older. By 2031, there will be more senior citizens than those under the age of 18.

    Baby Boomers obviously are leading the old age parade, but simultaneously the birth rate is declining. In 2007 our state recorded 130,866 live births. By 2020, the number had declined to 116,730 a year. Keep in mind our population was increasing by about 100,000 each year. 43 states reported the lowest fertility rate in 30 years. In 1990, North Carolina's fertility rate was 98.7 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44. That rate dropped to 62.8 in 2010 and is now at 56.2 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. Women are waiting longer to marry and have fewer children.

    In the world of demographics these are seismic changes.

    North Carolina is not only older, but we also live longer. In 1960, the average life expectancy in our state was 70.8 years. By 2020, it increased to 76.1. Why? We can credit a lot to better and more accessible medical care, better diets, reduced smoking and more exercise. In general, women live longer than men, whites longer than Blacks and Hispanics, and those in urban areas outlive those in rural regions.

    They call them the "golden years." Wife Lib says that is because it costs a lot of gold to live them. True, but good planning and good decisions can ensure these years can be happy and lustrous.

    If you don't heed anything else in this column, please purchase long term healthcare insurance if you can possibly afford it. It isn't cheap, but the younger you are the cheaper the annual premiums. Without it you face potentially bankrupting costs for lengthy hospital, convalescent or extended home health care stays. Remember: The most expensive period of your life will be your last months and years!

    Here are other valuable tips. Form a care team to include close family, friends, your pastor, financial advisor, lawyer, doctor and anyone who knows you well and will speak truth to you. Compile a notebook that contains names, addresses and phone numbers of all family, no matter how distant. List all bank and investment account numbers and contacts, insurance policy numbers and agent names, doctor and healthcare providers names and contact info, contact details for your pastor, lawyers, your care team and even maintenance workers. Draw a will, no matter how simple it might be. It is better to have all this information in one place than to go searching through records if you are unable to provide it.

    Perhaps the biggest later life decision is where you will live. Most of us want to stay in the home we've occupied for many years, but there comes a point where that's not practicable. Talk this over with your team and decide triggering events like spousal death, mobility or transportation issues, health events or anything that makes you more dependent on others. And discuss the type of facility most desirable.

    The best advice my aging mother received was to "go before you have to." Make a move while you have the ability to make friends, get involved with activities and re-establish habit patterns. More important advice: Investigate, investigate, investigate potential facilities. Learn about medical care, transportation, meals, recreation and community involvement. Go have a meal and talk to residents without salespeople around. The number of senior care facilities has exploded in recent years. Your care team can help advise you wisely.

    Read the potential contract and learn about ALL the expenses, both initial and ongoing. Especially the fine print. We didn't! Mom decided on a facility owned by a family we knew. They told us all the upfront deposits and said that when mom died or moved out, they would return a certain amount. But we didn't read the fine print. Yes, we would get our money returned, but we didn't read the part that said the refund would be made 30 days after they had rented mom's apartment. She died almost three years ago, and we still don't have the refund. The large corporation that now owns it doesn't care and is in no hurry to refund a large sum to us. Legal action would be expensive and the outcome questionable. Read the fine print!

    Each of us wants to live a long, full life. It is never too soon to start planning for those years to indeed be golden and happy. Make decisions while you still can.

      Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 1/2 years. Contact him at
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