Americans are living healthier and longer that ever before. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts boomers will turn 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day for the next decade, making them, along with centenarians, the fastest-growing segment of the population.
"The reason they are upbeat is because we have changed our definition of aging. People are working longer. They see people that are older being healthier," said Donna Shalala, the president of the University of Miami and a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration.
Shalala, 71, who will discuss the results of the poll during a panel on successful aging in Miami on Wednesday, said people are buoyed by seeing their relatives living longer.
"My mother is 100 years old. Why shouldn't I be optimistic?" she added.
MANAGING STRESS, WORKING LONGER, AGING IN PLACE
The majority of 2,250 seniors, aged 60 or older, questioned in the telephone survey from the National Council on Aging, medical insurer UnitedHealthcare and the newspaper USA Today said they are confident they will be able to maintain their health and think they manage stress effectively.
Although many seniors feel financially secure, nearly half of low- and middle-income seniors questioned in the poll are not confident they will be able to cover their expenses over the next five to 10 years.
About a third of older Americans do not think they will be able to afford long-term care, according to the poll, and for 1 in 5 seniors, a major financial event would result in a fiscal crisis.
Lower income seniors are also more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and less likely to exercise. Seventy-two percent of people who make less than $30,000 a year said they live with a lingering health problem.
Whether it is out of necessity, a sense of productivity, or the enjoyment of it, about 20 percent of seniors over 65 said they are still working either full- or part-time.
"The market absolutely threw this generation off," Shalala said about the impact of the recession.
And just as many seniors are staying in the workplace longer, the vast majority want to "age in place," or continue to live in their own home for the next decade. It could be a feasible option for most 60 somethings, but less than half of seniors in their 70s said they could live independently.
The poll also showed that a lack of services in the community is a concern for seniors. More than 25 percent of people in their 60s were not confident there would be resources and facilities in their communities to allow them to live independently.
"With appropriate preventive care and lifestyle changes, growing older doesn't have to mean living with chronic disease and disability," said Rhonda Randall, the chief medical officer at United Healthcare & Retirement.
The poll was conducted between May 10 and June 6. The margin of error for the general population is +/-3.1 percent.
(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Jackie Frank)