By now, you’ve probably heard the terms; “an aging America”, “The Graying of America”, and other names for a population of people that by 2030 will make up 20% of America’s population- a 7% increase from today’s percentage. A combination of younger generations producing less children and the aging of the already huge Baby Boomer population as well as their increased life expectancy are the reasons for this expected increase in the number of adults aged 65 or older living in the United States.
You may be asking yourself what this means to you, or even why it seems to be such a popular topic of discussion lately. The fact is, whether you yourself are heading towards that 65-year mark, you have loved ones that are aging, or (miraculously) don’t know any aging adults, the imminent increase in the senior population will affect everyone. When a population shifts so suddenly, the demands and needs of society change too. In this case, the unique and varying needs of our country's senior population will create equally as unique problems to be solved by younger generations, whether we are ready or not.
One problem we are already seeing as a result of an increase in the population of aging adults, is the increase in demand for medical services required to keep these generations healthy and mobile. The need for specialized health care and long-term service and support for an older adult is often much higher than that of a younger adult or adolescent due to the fact that as we age, we are at higher risk of injuries from a fall and more likely to develop multiple chronic illnesses that may require the collaboration of many different health care professionals. Health care professionals who are few and far between for various reasons, from cost of education, to the discrepancy in pay compared to other professions in the healthcare field.
Providing this type of coordinated care requires an interdisciplinary team, collaborating to meet the patient’s needs whether they be regular appointments, medication management, or even suggesting a mobility device. A team such as this may include: social workers, physicians, nurses, psychologists, medical directors, pharmacists, physical therapists, dentists, direct-care workers, and even family caregivers; that can be a hard order to fill as the gap between the number of professionals working or going into these fields and the number of aging patients that need care continues to grow. When the demand for these types of services surpasses the abilities of the health care industry to provide patients with the necessary care they need, we could start to see the quality and effectiveness of these services decline.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a vicious cycle emerging in regards to this issue, particularly when it comes to the lack of trained professionals in the medical field. The cycle begins with the simple fact that since birth rates dipped after the Baby Boomer generation, there are statistically less people in the work force today; this is why it’s so imperative to keep aging adults still working as healthy and able to work for as long as possible. If they don’t have access to quality health care services because of a smaller number of qualified medical professionals, the cycle continues as oftentimes, older adults are forced to retire earlier than planned, and the workforce as a whole loses a valuable contributor.
If the health and mobility of this population isn’t made a priority, not only will we start to see the quality of life of our loved ones decline, but as a country, we will all be affected. If we can’t meet the increasing senior populations health needs so they can stay healthy, individuals won’t be able to work as long as they had planned. This scenario is a lose, lose situation. The individual forced to retire early suffers financially if they do not have a savings or retirement plan, and the economy suffers because they are no longer a contributing workforce member; putting the burden on younger generations.
In the past, we've seen the government solve this problem with increased spending on health care and pensions for the current aging generation, but what will be left once America’s youngsters are consider seniors? While programs like social security and Medicare have been good, temporary fixes, we are going to have to make some drastic changes in regards to senior care in the future; with most experts estimating these programs will be exhausted before 2030, this is a hot topic of discussion right now.
What’s more, and an important point to consider, is that those in retirement tend to pay a lower amount in income taxes because they are not part of the workforce. How can our Government keep their spending commitments on programs for this large population, when they are seeing a decrease in tax revenue? That could eventually mean higher taxes for everyone in the workforce.
Historically, human beings have always found ways to adapt to the changing society and the evolving problems that emerge with those changes. With the exponential growth of technology and medical innovations making headlines each day, there is hope for a successful future, even if it's got a few more gray hairs than ever before. As our Parents, Grandparents, and loved ones enter into the “senior” category, we have to work collaboratively to find creative solutions to fit the demands of this population. Here are some solutions to consider:
* Visit www.eldercareworkforce.org to find out more about these issues.
When it comes down to it, we are all in this together. Young, old, male, female, regardless of the number of years in someone's life, it is our duty as fellow Americans and members of the human race to take a step outside our own needs and desires, and care for the men and women who paved the roads before us. Whether American's are ready to accept this responsibility or not, change is coming. The question is, will you be ready?