The pundits have been saying for years we are not ready for the wave of older adults who will live longer and need healthcare.
Who will provide the care an increasingly older population will certainly need — and who is going to pay for that care?
In 2010 there were 40 million Americans over 65, which is now 13% of the total population. That number will continue to grow as the nation’s baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, age. There were more people over 65 on the 2010 Census than in any recorded before.
Not only are older age groups overall growing, in 2010 there were 53,364 centenarians, the age group that is easily the fastest growing.
The Latest Population Data
A recent census report funded by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) collated a large amount of data about the health and well-being of the nation’s older adults drawn from a variety of sources including the latest census, American Community Survey and the National Health Interview Survey.
The major finding from that report is that the group known as “seniors” is really very diverse rather than a single group with similar needs — and those needs are changing. This new report will help to focus attention on this growing population and how their needs will impact families and the community where they seek to have their needs met.
Perhaps the report will help us all understand what changes are occurring and how to positively impact change to care for all of our elders who need care in the future.
Seniors & Chronic Disease
The report was very wide in its scope, as it had such a broad amount of information from which to pull to draw conclusions. Here are the highlights of their report.
- The prevalence of chronic diseases continues to increase. The statistics reflect that, in 2008, 41% had three or more chronic conditions, 51% had one or two and only 8% had no chronic conditions.
- Along with the rest of the population, the percentage of those that are overweight and obese has increased (72% men and 67% women from 2003-2006). The negative consequence of obesity is that the risk for developing chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and impaired mobility increases greatly. On a good note, smoking and alcohol consumption has declined.
- The cost of long term care continues to rise. As increasing numbers of older adults live with multiple chronic medical conditions, obesity and impaired mobility, they will likely need to consider entering a care facility. However, fewer than one-fifth of older people have the money to live in a nursing home for more than three years and almost two-thirds cannot afford even one year. Medicaid covers long-term care in certified facilities for qualifying low-income seniors. In 2006, Medicaid paid for 43% of long-term care. In the 2010 census, 1.3 million people over 65 were in skilled-nursing facilities.
- Because many older adults currently have their care needs met by unpaid family caregivers and the number of family members who are able to care for elders has declined due to fewer children, displaced families and divorce, figuring out just who will care for our aging seniors becomes a serious concern.
- Over 38% of seniors had one or more disabilities in 2010. The most common problems were walking, climbing stairs and doing errands alone. With these limitations, it will be necessary to have access to a caregiver, whether paid or unpaid, in order to simply complete activities of daily living.
- Social trends such as divorce and living alone are on the rise.
- This age group is also using technology, including the internet, more than in the past, with a 31% rise in the past decade.
- While females continue to outnumber males over 65, males are closing the gap by increasing in numbers at a faster rate than females.
Caregivers Can Improve Aging Outcomes
Caregivers, or those who might be caregivers in the future, who read this report when their family members begin to have increasing unmet care needs will undoubtedly ask themselves what can they do to make the road ahead easier?
We should all be thinking about what the statistics may mean for our ability and that of our aging loved ones to stay healthy and be ready to access the healthcare they will need when the time comes.
There are definitely things that caregivers can do to help ease the years ahead with a little bit of planning, encouraging healthy habits and talking about wishes for the future. We have put together a few ideas you might want to consider for your aging loved ones so that you can all face the future with a brighter outlook.
We need to make some changes to the way our seniors (and ourselves) look at food and activity. It is important to manage our weight so that we can prevent developing the chronic diseases associated with being overweight and obese. By making changes to our meals, what we eat, how much we eat and when we eat can make a big difference to our weight.
Eating fresh, wholesome foods that are high in fiber, whole grains, protein and low in saturated fats and added sugars will help to make the meal healthier. Getting more physically active every day will help them achieve their goals.
Find activities that your elder enjoys and encourage them to stay active each day. You may have to arrange transportation, attend some classes, or walk with them to get them in the habit of moving for health.
Make a financial plan!
Your senior loved one should have a plan for how they will pay for their care in the years ahead. Do they have long term care insurance, a retirement fund, a budget, or massive debt?
Talking about money is not always easy for families to do but it is a subject that you should be conversing about in order to know exactly where they stand. Will they have money for in-home care? Will they be able to pay if a care facility is necessary? Do they own their home? Is it time to visit a financial planner or elder law attorney? Is there a financial power of attorney assigned who will handle the money if they no longer can?
Help your senior loved one connect to the internet and stay socially engaged with the larger world. Social media is a great way to stay mentally stimulated, visit with family and friends, and learn new things. Brain and social stimulation will help them age healthier. Staying in touch with family members and future caregivers will help in many ways.
Stay steady on YOUR feet!
Maintaining their physical mobility and functioning will make it possible for your senior to remain independent as long as possible. Get them involved with balance and strength training to keep their muscles strong and joints flexible.
Preventing life changing falls will be key to keeping them at the home of their choice as they age and averting the cost of healthcare.
Seek preventive healthcare!
Encourage your aging loved one to stay current on all preventive health screenings and vaccinations. Staying healthy to avoid chronic disease should be a goal for all people over 65.
The more chronic diseases, medications and medical care needed, will mean a greater need for caregiving and financial burden on the senior and the family. Avoiding chronic disease through prevention is the objective.
The information presented in this report is a good reminder of the need that we have to take action to stay healthy not just for our senior loved ones but for us as family caregivers. Health should be a priority.