WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR SENIOR CARE?
Senior care is an important step in both a senior’s life and the life of a senior’s family. An elder entering assisted care can opt for varying forms of assistance depending on factors such as level of care needed for his or her age, illness, and mobility. Some of these types of care include:
- An assisted living home
- A nursing home
- Home health care
- Independent living
- Retirement home
The hope is that you or a loved one will be able to stay in these senior care facilities for a while (again, pending the level of care needed) and live life comfortably. These facilities have varying average lengths of stay anywhere from a single year up to 12 years. With that in mind, it’s understandable to be concerned with what senior living will be like down the road, whether you’re a couple years away from senior care or planning to enter it soon.
What Is Senior Care Like Now?
Seniors take up about 13 percent of the population, meaning there are about 42 million seniors living in America today. The Institute on Aging reports that 65 percent of elders get their long-term care and needs exclusively from family and friends, meaning just 35 percent of elders who need long-term care take part in some sort of senior care, either part-time or full-time. Many of those seniors who do get help go to one of the main types of care: nursing homes, assisted living, and residential communities.
The government spends, on average, over $26,000 per year on an elderly person—almost triple what it does on children and working adults, Politifact found. Many of these costs come from the federal government with Medicare and Social Security payments. Another report found that many of these costs go directly to healthcare, with an average of $18,424 being spent per person as of 2010. The report also discovered that, as elders age from 70 to 90, their medical costs nearly double over time.
So even when not all seniors who need long-term care receive the help they need, the government is still spending money on the elderly. Is this type of spending sustainable? Will the government be able to assist seniors years down the road?
Population In The Future
The primary issue with senior care is that the senior population (or the overall population) isn’t getting any smaller. By 2030, seniors are expected to take up over 20 percent of the population, according to the U.S Census Bureau. That number (about 20 percent) remains the same for the year 2050, but given how many people are projected to be living in the U.S. by that time, it’s expected more than 80 million seniors will be living in the States by then.
This is mostly thanks to the baby boomer generation, the group of adults born between 1946 and 1964. In 2017, more than half of the generation aren’t technically seniors yet, meaning it’s not very likely they need help with some form of assisted living. Researchers project that more than 76 million babies were born during the baby boomer generation, meaning it’s reasonable to believe that more 40 million people in the U.S. will cross the “senior” threshhold in just the next 12 years.
With this amount of seniors in the country at one time, the government is projected to spend a lot more money on programs like Medicare. In fact, it’s been found that the government will spend $1.16 trillion on Medicare in 2027, almost double what it spent in 2016.
Because of this, senior care will have to develop quickly. In just the next 30 years, the industry’s users could potentially increase 10-fold. So, what will senior care look like in the future?
Type of Care/Technology in the Future
There will be an obvious need for more—and better—senior care moving forward as the elderly population grows. As more elders flow into the senior care world, this can create consequences—both good and not-so-good—for seniors across the country.
More seniors will willingly enter senior care
“Increasingly, people are not viewing senior living as a step on the way to higher-acuity care but rather as somewhere to age in place,” a panel of members from the Assisted Living Federation of America concluded. The more seniors are willing to enter senior care, the smoother the transition into a more community- and professional-based system.
Increasingly, people are not viewing senior living as a step on the way to higher-acuity care but rather as somewhere to age in place.
This transition can be tough for seniors, and reasonably so. The Center for Disease Control notes that up to 11 to 14 percent of patients who need home health care or hospital care show signs of depression. These living conditions, in which health professionals are constantly intervening in their private space, are fuel for that.
There was a study done in China that showed just under 6 percent of single seniors surveyed showed a willingness to enter “institutional care,” noting that factors like “psychological stress and living arrangements” were primary reasons as to why they did not want to enter some sort of senior living. But once technology and more community-based systems evolve in the future, professionals expect a greater willingness from elders to enter senior care.
More demand and competition in the industry
The boom in seniors who will need care will create an exorbitant need for more professionals as well as a massive amount of new facilities. It’s been reported that the U.S. will need almost two million more housing facilities by 2040 to provide living space for seniors who need care. There’s also been a general rise in building senior care facilities since 2010, with most facilities having over 90 percent occupancy at all times.
The competition amongst a market like senior care will only improve the overall care for the patients. With more facilities to compete against, a certain facility won’t want to fall behind. It will also make sure its practices are up to the standards set by its patients and the patients’ loved ones.
As we advance as a civilization, the hope is that we’ll develop better technology allowing us to survive. This is certainly true in the healthcare industry, and especially with senior care. Technology for seniors specifically has already drastically improved over the last decade with phone apps that can remind elders when to take their medication, and GPS systems that can help locate a senior if they’re missing or not where they should be.
There are also companies working to improve senior care daily with inventions like virtual robot assistants. A robotics company recently revealed plans to create a robot called ElliQ. “The device, which is made up of an interactive robot attached to a tablet,” a tech website reported, “was built to help older adults age in place, while keeping them engaged, active, and connected to the outside world.” Inventions like these can help seniors age more comfortably and actively in instances where there may not be professionals available to help round-the-clock.
Less structured and more community-based
Along with seniors’ increased willingness to enter a senior care facility (discussed above), elders also are trending toward preferring a more community-based system. One site found that the usage of community-based senior care systems increased from 19 percent to 42 percent over a 13-year period.
These community-based supports and services (CBSS) allow seniors to have a wider range of care as well as a sense of community. More than 11 million seniors live in isolation, with the CDC reporting that 30 percent of elders 65 and up live alone. Isolation can have dire effects on seniors’ mental and physical state, so the more included they are in a society, the better. Options like CBSS are becoming more popular because they help seniors age better.
A study called “The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers” highlighted the need for developing an affordable community-based system for seniors. “A community’s social and economic systems need to become attuned to arranging services to meet the needs of an aging society in natural, informal ways,” the study said.
Another expert in the senior care world also weighed in on community-based systems helping seniors: “People don’t want to come for meatloaf and mashed potatoes and sit around,” said Beth Baker, the author of With a Little Help from Our Friends — Creating Community as We Grow Older. “They want a café, they want to have Wi-Fi, they want to have really cool, interesting, challenging programs of all sorts. … I think walkability – and having some place to walk to, a destination – is going to be so much more important.”