Older adults constitute the fastest growing portion of the population, as well as the most heterogeneous. By 2000, over 35 million Americans will be aged 65 or older, comprising 13% of the total U.S. population. The numbers of older adults are projected to exceed 53 million by the year 2020 and over 80 million by the year 2050, constituting over 20% of the entire population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997).
The largest contributing factors to the increasing numbers and diversity of older adults are race, ethnicity, and minority status. Over the next few decades African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans will comprise increasingly substantial proportions of the aging population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). In 2000, 16% of all older Americans, or an estimated 5.5 million individuals will be minority elderly. By 2025, the proportion of minority elderly is estimated to have increased to over 24% (14.6 million), and by 2050 over 33% (26.4 million) older adults will be from culturally diverse groups. African American elders are currently the largest group of minority elderly in the United States, numbering 2.6 million. This population is expected to double over the next few decades, with a projected number of 5.6 million by 2025. Hispanic Americans, currently the second largest group of minority elderly, will experience an even greater growth rate, from 1.9 million in 2000 to over 6.1 million by 2025. The older Asian American/Pacific Islander population is projected to increase from 780,000 to over 2.6 million, and the numbers of Native Americans, Eskimos, and Aleuts are expected to increase from 149,000 to over 320,000 during the same time period. As these populations grow, so will their mental health care needs.
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