How Aging Baby Boomers Will Challenge Healthcare in the Near Future
By 2029, the last of the Baby Boom generation will reach retirement age. As this population gets older, they present increasing challenges but also opportunity for the U.S. healthcare system.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Adventist University’s Masters in Health Administration program.
Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. With around 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, the last of this generation will cross the age of retirement by 2029. The aging baby boomers will have a significant impact on the demographics of the USA.
Aging Baby Boomers and Their Health Problems
The fact that a fifth of the country’s population is aged above 65 years will naturally pose challenges for the nation’s healthcare system. The issue is complicated by the numerous health problems faced by the baby boomer generation.
Three out of every four members of the baby boomer generation suffer from at least one chronic condition. 46% of the boomers don’t exercise regularly, which means they are at significant risk of additional complications and ailments as they grow older. What is worse is that 43% of the boomers indicate that they will give priority to their health only after being diagnosed with a life-threatening ailment.
Their casual approach towards health and fitness is in stark contrast to their previous generation. As compared to their parents, baby boomers have been found to be more susceptible to health risks like obesity, cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. In fact, incidence of high cholesterol among baby boomers, at 74%, is more than 100% more than the 34% incidence in their parents’ generation.
Healthcare Costs of the Aging Boomers
Data shows that healthcare costs for an individual suffering from a chronic condition is more than those facing normal medical problems. Treating multiple chronic conditions costs seven times more and 80% of all Americans aged above 65 years suffer from multiple chronic ailments.
Currently, more than 85% of total healthcare spending in the country is incurred for treating those with at least one chronic condition. As boomers age, the USA will spend more money on healthcare.
Expenditure towards healthcare will rise by around 6% per annum for the next ten years. Growth in healthcare expenditure is likely to outpace national GDP growth by 1.3% per year. By 2025, the USA will be spending a fifth of its GDP on healthcare as compared to 17.5% in 2014.
Today, retired boomers account for around 18% of all Medicare beneficiaries. When one considers those aged between 65 and 69 years, this figure rises to 25%. The impact will be exacerbated by the fact that two out of every three Americans aged above 60 years expect healthcare costs to rise over the next ten years and one out of every five such Americans feel healthcare may become unaffordable as they grow older.
Share of Medicare expenditure is disproportionate among baby boomers, especially those below 65 years of age. Those aged above 80 years’ account for 33% of total Medicare spending while those below 65 years’ account for 22% of total Medicare spending.
Baby Boomer and Healthcare Challenges
Shortage of Physicians and Nurses
Rising medical costs is merely one of the many challenges posed by aging baby boomers to the country’s healthcare system. A large pool of aged individuals seeking healthcare will require a large number of physicians and nurses to care for them. Currently, there are around 710,000 physicians and 2.75 million nurses in the country. To cater to baby boomers, these employment categories must grow by 14% and 16% respectively. However, the outlook for growth of all occupations is just 7%, which is indicative of a massive shortfall in the future.
This shortage will be accentuated by the fact that six out of every ten nurses aged above 54 years are considering retirement. In the three years, around 15% of all physicians are likely to opt for retirement. Further, another 38% plan on switching to part time work or intend to reduce working hours or number of consultations.
Complex Healthcare Needs
Aging persons have complex healthcare needs. Nine out of ten persons use prescription drugs and around 95% of all aged persons have made at least one health care visit in the past year. A third of aged Americans suffer from heart disease or hypertension and one in five such persons have visited an ER in the past year.
Senior citizens also have to plan for end of life care expenses. Of the total healthcare expenses incurred by an elderly throughout his or her life, about 27.5% is incurred in the last 12 months alone. Care for the last six months of the life, including hospital and other expenses, costs an average of $18,500.
It is evident that aged boomers will require specialized care designed to cater to their unique requirements and conditions till the very end.
Catering to the Needs of Aging Baby Boomers
Research shows that 80% of all avoidable hospital admissions occur due to just six medical conditions—Urinary tract infections, dehydration, pneumonia, skin ulcers, asthma, and congestive heart failure. Providing skilled nursing care can help senior citizens avoid hospitalization without compromising on quality or efficacy of care.
More than 85% of the total national health expenditure is incurred towards treating ailments like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. These conditions are responsible for 70% of all deaths in the country. It is pertinent to note that these ailments can be prevented through a combination of steps like leading a healthy lifestyle, avoiding harmful substances like tobacco, and conducting regular checkups and screenings.
Emphasis on preventive care as opposed to reactive care and focus on wellness and fitness can help aging boomers avoid or minimize the impact of such ailments and conditions. Preventive services focusing on risks like high blood pressure, LDL cholesterol control, and smoking can help prevent up to 100,000 deaths per year among those aged less than 80 years and up to 40,000 deaths among those aged less than 65 years.
Finally, technology can help enhance quality of monitoring and care of the aging boomers. Those living in rural areas can use telemedicine to enjoy access to healthcare. Use of the latest technologies can help improve care outcomes, reduce instances of admissions and readmissions, and facilitate greater collaboration between patients and professionals.
Further, both professionals and patients have reacted positively to use of health and wellness apps for monitoring health parameters. 96% of users felt the apps led to improvement in quality of their lives while 86% of professionals felt such apps helped them gain better knowledge and understanding of their patients’ conditions.
Institutions and professionals that understand the challenges and utilize the right remedial strategies will be in a position to offer quality assistance to the baby boomers.
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