History of Aging Paves the Way to the Future

The one thing I enjoy most about my work is doing research and gaining self-knowledge and improvement.  

Recently, I completed a Future Thinking course online. It was called, Ready, Set, Future.  The topic has always been fascinating to me. Even as a kid, I would stare up in night sky wondering what my life will be like in the years ahead.  

In this course, an exercise instructed us to look back in order to look forward.  Its purpose was to learn from the history of something, which has the power to give insights of what's to come.  Aging was my "something." Ha, ha!  What else would I choose, right? 

History of Aging  

It starts with a Google search on "history of (topic,)" because that's where you'll find a number of online articles and other resources. And look for the moments of change as the (topic) evolved throughout the decades. 

Here's what I discovered..

In 44 BC Cicero wrote a text about aging, "On Old Age."

1025 An Arabic text, the "Canon of Medicine" is the earliest known text describing medical care for the aging and elderly.

1100 - 1700 Aging and the elderly are held in widely different regard, from "evil" during the Dark Ages to revered during the Age of Enlightenment.

1713 One of the earliest organizations designed specifically to care for the elderly, "Friends' Almhouse of Philadelphia" is founded.

Mid 1800s Religious groups, in reaction to awful conditions in "poorhouses" and "workhouses," open nonprofit homes for seniors, many of which still exist today.

1853 An early guide to aging, "On the Decline of Life," is published by Barnard Van Oren. (I need to explore this one.)

1862 Civil War pensions become the first major pension program in the U.S. and cares for Union war veterans disabled in service, their widows and their dependents.

1909 Aging is first recognized as a social issue, separate from sickness, with poverty among the elderly population a specific concern.

1935 The Social Security Act is passed in response to The Great Depression, which resulted in half the senior population living in poverty. It is the first universal federal welfare program for the elderly.

1950 The rise of the private nursing home industry begins this year and doubles to more than 500,000 by 1965.

1960 - 1976  In 16 years, the number of nursing home beds available increases by 302 percent.

1965 Medicare and Medicaid are signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

1968  The Moss Amendments bring government regulation to the nursing home industry and prompts the rise of national nursing home chains.

1974 The first hospice organization in the U.S. is founded in Connecticut to address end of life care.

1981  The first nationally-recognized assisted living organization is founded and focused on privacy and independence for its residents.

2011  The "Retirement Wave" begins, with the first Baby Boomers turning 65. Between 2011 and 2030, 79 million Baby Boomers will retire, or about 10,000 people per day.


  • Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • About 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • The majority of caregivers (82%) care for one other adult, while 15% care for 2 adults, and 3% for 3 or more adults. [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]
  • Approximately 39.8 million caregivers provide care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness or 16.6% of Americans. [Coughlin, J. (2010). Estimating the Impact of Caregiving and Employment on Well-Being: Outcomes & Insights in Health Management.]
  • About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. [Alzheimer's Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures.]

The most significant changes or most surprising that I noticed: 

  1. 1100 - 1700 Aging and the elderly are held in widely different regard, from "evil" during the Dark Ages to revered during the Age of Enlightenment.
  2. 1920 to 1950 and beyond - family were responsible to care for aging loved ones. (Note: 1950 was not the decade that my family stopped caring for an elderly loved one.  That phase lived well into the 2000s. 
  3. 1960 - 1976  In 16 years, the number of nursing home beds available increased by 302 percent. The shift changes from family to institutions as early as 1960 - the trend from family to larger community now begins. 

Interesting that as early as 1100 people saw aging as “evil.” (I wonder if this is the reason people today have such a negative position on growing older and that’s why we have a strong anti-aging industry.)

Early 1900’s most American family members lived nearby. Few children went off to college. Now, it’s the norm. That shift to higher education and away from farming and learning trades could have started the current transient and independent lifestyle that most have adopted.


To identify the nature of each change, using the "From WHAT to WHAT" framework. How were things before the change? How were they different after? 

The idea of looking back to see forward.. will give us signals into how things have evolved from the past to the present, which has the power to lead us to the drivers of upcoming change and ways to think about the future... and your possibilities.  

For example:  Families lived and stayed nearby one another. We cared for each other. Grandparents helped raise grandchildren and eventually, the grandkids shared in the responsibilities of helping grandma and grandpa out.

In today's world, it has shifted from family (because we're a transient society) into hiring outside help.  For whatever reason for the shift, older adults are left to search other ways to find support, personal care, social connection, and even create alternative ways to have family. 

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