Although medicine has improved, new research shows that baby boomers entering their senior years are more overweight and less active than previous generations. However, as this senior population increases, so does the demand for higher-level senior resources.
According to the Administration on Aging, with the aging of the baby boomers, the size of the population 65 and older is experiencing one of the biggest increases in history: between 2010 and 2050 the number of seniors is expected to more than double, totaling 88.5 million by 2050. A story by NBCnews.com states that only 13 percent of boomers are reported to be in excellent health, versus 32 percent of their counterparts from their previous generation.
Researchers said that although medicine has improved, leading to progressively increasing life expectancy, studies show mixed results regarding whether boomers are healthier than prior generations. A generation of sicker adults who are living longer will certainly lead to a more costly healthcare system.
Dana King, a professor in the department of family medicine at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, who co-authored a study in 2013 says, “The proportion of people with diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity is increasing. Perhaps even more disturbing, the proportion of people who are disabled increased substantially.”
Rhonda Randall, a senior adviser to the United Health Foundation and chief medical officer at United Healthcare Retiree Solutions, states that the increase in seniors with elevated needs…has serious implications for the long-term health of those individuals and for the finances of our nation.”
Supply for Senior-Centered Care is Supporting Demand
Due to the expanding population of elders, and a sub-group within this demographic that will need more care and support, healthcare is evolving to accommodate their needs. Geriatrician, Leslie Kernisan notes that “The growing senior population means there’s finally some momentum in expanding senior health services that are designed to meet the special needs of older adults.”
Dr. Kernisan recognizes that although the art and science of geriatrics has been around for many decades, implementation of senior-centered care is finally ramping up at noticeable speed. “We’ve known for over 20 years that special hospital units designed for older adults, also known as Acute Care for Elders (ACE units), result in better outcomes. Likewise, hospitals are starting to pay more attention to developing emergency rooms adapted for older adults. I expect we will see more primary care clinics adapted for seniors next.”
Similarly, Megan Carnarius, RN NHA LMT and author, states that, “geriatric physician practices are growing with utilization of geriatric nurse practitioners. With these teams managing the transitions of elders in and out of hospital care, both the admission and readmission rates decline.”
These practices also benefit families caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. Geriatricians more fully understand the process of dementia and its impact on the family’s life. By building relationships with clinicians, the caregivers also get more support around their needs.
Enhanced Care Growing at Senior Living Communities
Senior living communities are also helping improve their residents’ quality of life by providing services to elders to help them stay socialized, fit and happier than they may have been when living alone. Dr. Kernisan observes that, “…some older adults really blossom in senior living, mainly because the communities often provide a lot more fitness, healthy eating, and social activity.” She continues, “Assisted livings’ medication management services are also very helpful. I see seniors improve a lot medically simply because they begin taking their medications consistently.”
Activities and programs are not purely based on hobbies or interests, but on innovative concepts around how to sustain the overall well-being of the individual as they age. Carnarius states, “Companies serving seniors are focusing on the research going on with this demographic and basing the development of their programs on this research to create state of the art, positive-outcome-based classes and activities. For example, classes in tai chi, balance, and fall prevention can reduce the number of falls between 30 and 40 percent. Some senior communities have also contracted with local colleges to provide classes for their residents wanting to pursue life-long learning.”
The Future of Senior Care is Underway
These advances are just the beginning of the changes we’ll see as this demographic creates greater demand and requires improved geriatric care. It is well-documented that today’s baby boomers face higher instances of medical conditions – like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol – than previous generations. However, with more time to implement positive changes in senior-centered care, this next generation of elders will be the pioneers of an important shift toward improved geriatric healthcare and wellness.
Gerard Gravallese, Writer and Senior Care Expert, A Place for Mom
Gerard has been reporting on healthcare trends since 2008 when he helped launch SeattleMamadoc.com, a pediatrics blog for Seattle Children’s Hospital. He continued working with top surgeons and medical professionals to educate the online public of the advantages and risks of new and trending medicine. At A Place For Mom, Gerard helps families navigate the maze of long-term senior care, regularly writing about senior-related topics, trends and news.