American seniors are living longer lives than ever before. While longer lifespans have been good news for millions of individuals and families across the U.S., another unfortunate reality is that a majority of America’s seniors are living with debilitating and preventative chronic conditions that the U.S. may not be prepared to combat.
Now that the senior population in the United States is growing at a rapid pace, industry leaders are starting to understand the importance of prioritizing elder care.
Five years ago, the baby boomer generation first began hitting retirement age, marking major demographic shift in the United States. That demographic shift has many leaders to prepare for the future of elder care while America goes through a drastic nursing shortage.
A Greater Need for Geriatric Care
According to the United Health Foundation, nearly 1 in 8 Americans are over the age of 65–a ratio which is expected to double by the year 2050. Additionally, nearly 80 percent of seniors live with a chronic health condition that threatens their overall health.
Because of this, seniors will need more care than their millennial counterparts, and will also require more care than seniors in previous generations. Yet studies by the Association of American Medical Colleges indicate that there will not be enough doctors trained in geriatric care to take care of an aging population.
The AAMC report projects that by 2025, a shortage of between 61,700 to 94,000 doctors will exist in the United States. Although there are ample opportunities for healthcare coverage in the United States, elderly patients severely outnumber the doctors trained to help them.
“These updated projections confirm that the physician shortage is real, it’s significant, and the nation must begin to train more doctors now if patients are going to be able to receive the care they need when they need it in the future,” AAMC president and CEO Darrell Kirch stated.
Moving forward, policy makers should be incredibly concerned about prioritizing and making quality improvements to senior healthcare in the U.S.– not only for doctors, but for many other medicinal practices across a number of fields.
The Uphill Battle to Make Elder Care “Exciting”
As it stands, policy makers may have a battle when it comes to recruiting new doctors and nurses into the geriatric field.
“All of these people are going to need more care and more services,” notes Denise R. Scruggs, director of the Beard Center on Aging at Lynchburg College. “Working in the field of gerontology is not [viewed as] sexy…we’re seeing a disconnect among generations, and we see stereotypes that aging is not good, and that working with old people is boring.”
To recruit new caregivers, doctors, and nurses into the field of gerontology, that stigma is one that ought to be replaced. Caring for the elderly is a privilege and a necessary good for not only baby boomers, but for generations to come.
Today, there are no concrete plans for solving the issue of geriatric care. This lack of plan and action is troubling, PBS reporter Jason Kane writes, because only 35 percent of Americans have adequate funds set aside for long-term care, and fewer have spoken to their families about their future care needs.
“While the issue can be daunting in scale on the national level and difficult to confront personally, it all boils down to one thing,” according to Dr. Bruce Chernof, chair of the federal government’s recent Commission on Long-Term Care. “All of us want to age with dignity, independence, and choice. For some people, that might mean being in a nursing home because your needs are so great, that’s the best and the safest place. But for most of us, it’s about being in the homes and communities we choose, around the people that we love and circle of friends that support us.”
Where Community Comes Into Play
While solutions are far from being had, experts agree that providing community-based solutions may be a priority in years to come.
“There’s a lot…that neighbors can do to help people live comfortable, better lives at home,” Howard Gleckman writes. “And that’s the main idea most of these community-based programs. It may be providing transportation, it might be friendly visits. It might be meals.”
Outside of community based solutions, others maintain that more care ought be given to communities where healthcare remains stigmatized.
Policy members in the U.S. would do well to remember that elder care in the United States is not an issue to be ignored. As the population continues to age, developing a national strategy to aid seniors to live comfortably in their older age should be a high priority.
Danika McClure is a musician and writer from the Northwest who is passionate about social justice and education.