Contributed By: Amy Funk, Geriatric Nurse – OSF Saint Francis Medical Center
During the first part of our series on Elder Care, I shared with you some statistics on the demographic shift to an older population. In this second section, we take a look at how this population shift is expected to affect health care.
The Aging of the Population: What Does this Mean for Health Care?
As technology and medical advances are developed, the picture of how the Boomers will change health care may be altered slightly. What is certain is that this demographic change will have a profound impact on health care. The aging of the population has been implicated as having dire consequences for the economy and health care services unless planning and preparation occurs at every level from public policy to individual/family planning.
Critical steps to avoiding these consequences lies in understanding the aging of the population, predicting common trends, and strategic planning to address predicted health care needs and Baby Boomer expectations for care.
Policies and programs that seek to keep people healthy and independent for as long as possible are essential. Additionally, health systems need to plan for frail elders, those 85 and older, living with chronic disease.
According to the American Hospital Association & First Consulting Group (2007), a person managing five chronic illnesses spends 15 times more on health care than someone free of chronic illness. As the population of older adults continues to grow, the numbers of Americans living with chronic illness will increase. It is anticipated that six of every ten Boomers will have more than one chronic illness.
For example, one in four (14 million) will be living with diabetes and one in two (26 million) will be living with arthritis. Knee replacements will be completed eight times more often than today. The Alzheimer’s Association (2011) reports that Boomers who reach the age of 85 have a one in two chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Not only will society have to plan for care-giving needs of this generation, but also for education and guidance in making health care decisions.
As we age, we face more challenges with our health and more complex decision-making. In large numbers, older adults and their caregivers will be entering our complex, technological medical world and have to make critical decisions about life and death, quality of life, and the risk/benefits of procedures and treatments.