American lifespans have increased by about 5 years since 1965 and people who reach age 65 can now expect to live an average of another 19 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. Today, more than one in eight (about 41 million Americans) are older than 65. That number is expected to increase to 72 million by 2030, increasing the elderly population from 13 percent to 20 percent, according to the Administration on Aging. Longer life spans mean increased costs, as medical problems of the elderly require more and more expensive care.
The need for long-term care services will drastically increase in the next two decades, and healthcare and government leaders need to be sure the system is ready to meet the demand.
By 2030, at least 3.5 million more doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals will be needed to care for our aging population, according to the Institute of Medicine. This shortage will necessitate bold initiatives such as mandatory geriatric training for all healthcare professionals, higher salaries for those who specialize in geriatric care, and expanded healthcare training for family members and other volunteer caregivers. The nation’s youth should be made aware of the great need for geriatric and long-term health care professionals, and how that need presents many opportunities for rewarding careers.
If and when the baby boomers do need to enter long-term care facilities, they will find more advanced designs and more perks than those of yesterday’s nursing homes. Across the country, new facilities are being built and existing facilities are being renovated. Nursing homes are now moving toward private rooms, patient-centered social environments with exercise rooms and therapy pools, fast Wi-Fi, more food options and attractive surroundings. Tiered living options provide less expensive care for those who need less assistance and more intensive care for those who are sicker and require more services. More nursing homes are offering extended healthcare services in-house, such as spiritual and holistic healing options, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
These are just a few of the ways long-term care is changing and will continue to change in order to prepare for the “Silver Tsunami”. What else should health care leaders do? Tell us in the comments below.