Mark Twain once wrote that age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. While one can appreciate Twain’s whimsical thought, the current demographics of aging are sobering. In 2005 12% of the U.S. population was age 65 or older, in 2030 that number is expected to increase to nearly 20%. This silver tsunami will present our society with numerous fiscal, social, and governmental challenges.
Not only will there be more older Americans but with continued advances in medicine this group will live longer lives which will require more assistance from the health care profession and caregivers. The stress on our health care system will be enormous. Costs will increase dramatically and shortages of medical care workers such as nurse aides, home health aides and personal home care aides will press family members or friends to serve as informal caregivers even though there will be fewer family members available due to decreasing birth rates, the number of married children who have dual income families who often reside considerable distance from their parents.
Presently more than 75% of adults over 65 suffer from at least one medical condition requiring on-going care, and 20% of Medicare subscribers have five or more chronic conditions. The Federal government spent $390 billion on Medicare benefits in 2008, of that amount $50 billion was for physician and hospital costs during the last two months of subscribers’ lives. The added costs for the upcoming bulge in those 65 years of age will be difficult to sustain and are likely to prompt more consideration to cost effective homecare, better management of hospital and physician costs, and more aggressive preventative measures for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Faced with the uncertainty associated with the changes that will take place as a result the increase in the number of older Americans and recognizing the complexity of gaining access to services that will ensure a robust quality of life for older Americans, preparing for the future takes on a new level of importance.