The Top 10 Medical Fears of Older Americans in 2024

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worried and frightened older woman
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Money’s likely on your mind when it comes to your top concerns about health care as you get older, a recent survey indicates.

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging asked more than 3,300 adults over age 50 to reflect on 26 issues and say whether each was very concerning, somewhat concerning or not concerning to them.

Cost issues topped respondents’ concerns regardless of gender, age, race/ethnicity, level of education, income, political ideology and location.

Affording health care is a “kitchen table issue among older adults, their families, and their caregivers,” Indira Venkateswaran, AARP senior vice president of research, said in a statement about the poll. “Millions of Americans struggle to pay for insurance premiums, copays, prescriptions and long-term care while putting food on the table and paying bills,” she said.

Here are the issues respondents called “very concerning” and tips to ease those concerns.

10. Access to affordable healthy food

Senior cooking a healthy meal
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 33%

Food prices continue to rise, the government says. According to federal data, nearly 1 in 10 households with adults age 65 and up are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to enough nutritious food to live an active, healthy life. Their food might run out before they have enough money to buy more.

Ease your concerns: Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins to stay healthy within your budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises in its tips for healthy eating. Plan menus and recipes in advance, says the American Heart Association.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides low-income seniors access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs. Programs such as Meals on Wheels deliver nutritious food to homebound seniors.

Be sure to also check out the “12 Healthy Foods to Eat on a Budget.”

9. Inaccurate or misleading health information

senior surprised by Medicare costs
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 34%

Not sure what to believe about the information on diet pills, tinnitus solutions, vaccines or major diseases that shows up while you’re browsing the internet or on Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites? You’re not alone, experts say.

“Most people aren’t true believers in the lies or the facts about health issues; they are in a muddled middle,” said Drew Altman, president and CEO of the health research organization KFF, in a news release regarding a recent survey about health information.

“Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health,” says Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. “It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health and undermine public health efforts.”

Ease your concerns: Understand where information is coming from, verify it and take a step back before sharing, advised Dr. Eric Burnett in an article published by Columbia University.

Always check the source of information, consult with health care professionals and be skeptical of “too good to be true” health claims. Use reliable health sources such as government health websites or reputable health organizations. The National Institutes of Health offers more tips on questions to ask about information you find.

8. Health care quality

Worried man in the hospital
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 35%

By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be age 65 and older, including all the baby boomers. Older adults are more likely to have chronic conditions, mental disorders and physical disabilities. However the number of health care workers is dropping, according to the 2023 federal National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report. Declines in quality health care can lead to delayed treatment, increased health risks and lower quality of life.

Ease your concerns: Be an active member of your health care team, says the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Discuss your treatment plan, medications or any other concerns. Understand what your health insurance covers. Keep up with regular check-ups and screenings to detect health issues early and prevent serious diseases.

“Patients who talk with their doctors tend to be happier with their care and have better medical results,” the agency says.

7. Access to quality long-term care

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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 38%

You’re likely going to need assistance with bathing, walking, dressing and toileting sometime due to illness or disability, says the federal Administration for Community Living. You might think of nursing homes, but most care is actually provided at home, it says. However, as the need for care grows, the number of care aides is dropping.

Ease your concerns: “The best time to think about long-term care is before you need it,” says the National Institute on Aging. While a heart attack or stroke may trigger long-term care needs suddenly, more often the need develops gradually, it says.

Eldercare Locator, your local Area Agency on Aging and state and local agencies can help you get started finding in-home aides, adult day care centers and transportation. The National Institute on Aging can also get you started understanding the options for live-in facilities such as board-and-care homes, nursing homes, assisted-living centers and continuing-care retirement communities. Medicare helps you compare nursing home quality.

6. Cost of dental care

Senior man at the dentist
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 45%

Aging raises your risk of tooth decay, but, in most cases, you’re on your own to pay for dental care. Original Medicare with few exceptions won’t cover routine cleanings, fillings, tooth extractions or dentures. However, some Medicare Advantage plans, the other kind of Medicare, do cover some dental care.

While half of all seniors visited a dentist in 2021, more than 1 in 10 skipped due to cost barriers, the American Dental Association reports. Those with dental insurance tend to visit their dentist more often, the CDC says.

Oral health is associated with overall health, especially in older adults, says the CDC. As you age, receding gum lines, dry mouth — often exacerbated by medicines typically taken by seniors — and reduced brushing and flossing due to physical ailments contribute to increased potential for cavities and gum disease.

Ease your concerns: Besides doing your best to maintain oral hygiene, consider buying dental insurance or discount plans. Low-cost treatment may be available through local community health centers, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and dental schools, the Department of Health and Human Services says.

You can also explore the “10 Ways Seniors Can Save on Dental Care.”

5. Cost of health insurance/Medicare

older man talking to doctor getting a prescription
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 52%

You might think that once you’re on Medicare, your health insurance worries are over. Medicare Part A, which covers hospitalization, is provided at no cost for most, but that’s only part of the picture.

When you add in Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and has a monthly premium of $174.70 for most Medicare beneficiaries in 2024, the costs start to add up. Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, costs an average around $55 a month. That’s still not everything. Many people also sign up for Medigap supplemental insurance to cover the gaps in Medicare coverage, and that can be around $50 to more than $300 monthly, depending on the plan you choose, your health and where you live.

When you add it all up, you could spend anywhere from $280 to well over $500 a month on health insurance premiums if you choose Original Medicare. Those who select Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered by private health insurers, may have different costs.

The Census Bureau recently found more older Americans are relying on Medicare coverage alone and dropping private insurance. But as we have reported here, traditional Medicare won’t cover care outside the U.S., insurance premiums, and most dental, vision and hearing expenses.

Ease your concerns: You can get help with premiums, deductibles and copays from your state through Medicare Savings Programs if you have limited income and resources.

Annually review options such as Medicare Advantage all-in-one Part C plans that might cost less but hold you to a limited network of doctors. You can also shop around for different Medigap and Part D plans to see if you’re getting the most cost-effective premiums and deductibles for your budget and health situation.

4. Financial scams and fraud

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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 53%

With the elderly population increasing and seniors over age 60 racking up more than $3.4 billion in losses in 2023, elder fraud is a growing problem, the FBI reports. Scammers target seniors because they tend to be trusting and polite, have savings, own a home and have good credit, the government agency says.

The costliest elder-fraud schemes in 2023 were investment scams, followed by tech support scams, business email compromise scams, confidence and romance scams, and government impersonation scams, according to the FBI.

An earlier study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation found that older adults in worse mental or physical health were more likely to be the target of scams. Fewer than half of survey respondents in the study said they were very confident in their ability to recognize scams, and most wanted more information on how to protect themselves.

Ease your concerns: Awareness, vigilance and diligence are the best defense against scam artists seeking your Social Security, Medicare and bank account numbers. Check out our earlier stories on text message scams and common scams targeting seniors. See tips from the FBI, Eldercare Locator, Medicare the Federal Trade Commission, National Council on Aging and AARP for spotting and halting this exploitation.

3. Cost of prescription medications

Man looking at prescription medicine bottle
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 54%

About 9 in 10 older Americans regularly take at least one prescription drug, says Merck Manual. About 8 in 10 are on at least two medications, and more than 1 in 3 take at least five prescription drugs regularly. Older Americans generally take more prescribed medicines than younger folks as they suffer multiple chronic medical disorders such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis.

About 1 in 4 Americans age 65 and up say they have difficulty affording prescriptions, a KFF survey says. About 3 in 10 across all ages report resorting to measures such as cutting pills in half or taking an over-the-counter medication instead of their prescription due to costs.

Ease your concerns: Starting in 2025, you’ll pay no more than $2,000 out of pocket for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare explains here. The cap is part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which already has limited insulin copays to $35 a month. The act also allows Medicare to negotiate certain drug prices, requires drug companies to rebate Medicare if they raise prices faster than inflation and makes recommended adult vaccines free.

While many seniors don’t pay that much annually in drug copays, cancer patients taking Lynparza, Ibrance and Xtandi, for example, could save thousands, KFF says. In 2023, Medicare Part D enrollees who took those drugs for a year faced out-of-pocket costs around $12,000, it says.

1. Cost of long-term care (tie)

Senior man in long-term care insurance facility
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Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 56%

Once you turn 65, you have a 70% chance of needing long-term care at some point in your life, says The vast majority of people in a survey reported by KFF say they would have difficulty paying an estimated $100,000 a year for a nursing home or an estimated $60,000 for a paid nurse or aide at home.

Many wrongly assume Medicare covers long-term care. Medicare covers only up to 100 days if you require skilled services or rehabilitative care. It does not pay for non-skilled assistance with so-called “Activities of Daily Living” tasks such as eating, bathing, dressing, preparing meals and managing your medications. State Medicaid programs vary but can cover nursing home and home-assistance care if you can’t afford it on your own.

Ease your concerns: Have that serious conversation with loved ones about who will take care of you if you need help with daily activities and how to pay for care if needed at home or in a facility. Check in advance on how your state handles Medicaid assistance, which typically requires you to deplete most assets before coverage can begin.

Everyone’s situation is different, but long-term care insurance might be right for you, as Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson discusses here. Also check out the viability for you of reverse mortgages, annuities and trusts.

1. Cost of medical care (tie)

Senior couple upset and worried about medical bills

Survey respondents who said they are very concerned about this: 56%

Health care takes up a larger share of your spending as you age.

As we reported here, the share of health care expenditures in households led by someone 65 or older was 13% of their total spending in 2022. That makes health care retirees’ third-largest expenditure, behind only housing and transportation. Health care spending in non-Medicare households is only 6.5% of total spending, KFF says.

Over the course of retirement, couples on Original Medicare and Part D drug plans can expect to spend $315,000 on health care, we reported here.

Health care cost concerns have seniors putting off needed care and skipping prescribed medications, surveys say.

Ease your concerns: As we reported here, consider a Health Savings Account if you’re eligible. Your money grows tax-free, and money you withdraw to pay for qualified medical expenses won’t be taxed.

And as we reported on cutting your health care costs here, consider a Medigap plan; take care of your health through diet and exercise; budget for and get routine screenings and recommended immunizations; and consider bunching medical and dental expenses in a single year for possible tax savings.

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