While most people know that the overall population is aging, relatively few are aware of just how quickly this is happening. A report by the Population Reference Bureau entitled Aging in the United States noted that the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to increase from the current 46 million to more than 98 million by 2060, at which time this group will comprise nearly 24 percent of the population. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, by 2035 and for the first time in U.S. history, the number of people aged 65 and older will surpass the number of children aged 17 and younger.
Within 15 years, about one in every five residents in the U.S. will be retirement age.
Dr. James Hauschildt of Mason, Ohio, is a non-profit executive who previously served as an officer and clinical nurse in the United States Air Force, and as a higher education president at Good Samaritan College and Saint Luke’s College. He says that it is difficult to overestimate the massive and unprecedented impact this will have — and in fact, is already having — on the healthcare system. We cannot rely on old paradigms and strategies to address the new normal that people are living longer, and consuming substantial healthcare services well into their 70s, 80s, and 90s.
According to James Hauschildt, here are three ways that politicians, policymakers, non-profit organizations, and private sector stakeholders can come together and address the implications and requirements of our graying population:
· Preventive Initiatives and Public Education
The proliferation of population health data can be exploited to shape smarter, better and cost-effective preventative initiatives and public education campaigns that reduce the burden that the elderly put on the healthcare system — and at the same time, enable the elderly to live healthier, happier and more independent lives. James Hauschildt states mental health is deeply integrated with physical health. He further explains that we need to make sure that preventative initiatives focus on how people feel and perceive themselves and the world around them, and not just on physical symptoms and conditions.
· Hybrid Healthcare Delivery Models
Hybrid healthcare models that combine at-home care and monitoring with facility-based testing and treatment are not just much more agreeable to older patients who get to spend more time in comfortable and familiar surroundings, but they are also significantly less costly. James Hauschildt adds that the increasing availability and affordability of unified communications, such as at-home web conferencing over the internet, will play a key role in this approach.
· Caregiver Support
Caregivers such as adult children are critical to providing quality healthcare services to older populations. Effective and compassionate programs, services and supports that help this group deal with this responsibility — and avoid exhaustion and burnout — will be vital as the years and decades unfold. According to James Hauschildt, we need to take a closer look at economic policies and labor legislation that enables caregivers to avoid having to choose between caring for older parents or other relatives or staying employed and paying their bills.
James Hauschchildt’s Final Thoughts
While some predictions and prognostications are overblown and exaggerated, the fact that America — and indeed, many other countries around the world such as Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada and several others — is on the cusp of a “gray tsunami” is not fake news or alarmist rhetoric. It is on the way; and in places like Santa Fe, NM and Sarasota County, FL the first big waves and strong winds have already arrived.
James Hauschildt concludes that the time to take focused, responsible and sustainable action is now. Otherwise, we will face a situation where tens of millions of elderly people who need and deserve healthcare cannot get it. If that happens, it will not merely be a big problem. It will be an unprecedented catastrophe.