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The "Silver Tsunami": Implications for All of Us

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According to www.census.gov, the population of people age 65 and older was 43.1 million in 2012. By 2050, it is predicted to be 83.7 million. That’s double. That’s also alarming because the big question is, “How do we care for this growing number of citizens who will predictably need more medical services, more senior living options, and, likely, more financial assistance as they age?”

If you are 35 years old, you will be part of this great wave. For you Boomers, you have some serious issues to consider as you grow from what the U.S. Census office “Young-old” (65-74) to “Old” (75 – 84) and then to “Oldest-old” (85 and older). Get your suits on and bring those life preservers.

On the Home Front

Overcrowded tables of seniors eating dinner

Today many active adults with jobs and children also take on the responsibility of caring for their elders. Elders either live in their own homes or with their adult children. That can work out well for a while, but as the needed care of our elders becomes more complex, and as the stress of being “sandwiched” between elders and children takes its toll on many adult children, plans about future care will need to be made. Families will need to consider options for safe and comfortable care. How long can they continue with the present arrangement? When is it time to look at other options: independent living communities, assisted living communities, memory care assisted living, or skilled nursing?

Another scenario on the home front is seniors taking care of the elderly. The senior is likely retired and has taken on the role of full-time caregiver for one or both elderly parents. This may also work out well for a while until it becomes evident that the senior can no longer manage being the sole caregiver. Either the elder’s needs become too great and/or the senior herself develops her own health issues.

A study at The Stanford School of Medicine showed that “40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient does.” The population of those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia will increase as Boomers age into their 80s and 90s and beyond.

According to an abstract posted on nih.gov (National Institute of Health), “…in 1997, the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease in the United States was 2.32 million…. It is projected that the prevalence will nearly quadruple in the next 50 years, by which time approximately 1 in 45 Americans will be afflicted with the disease.” Caregiving families whose loved ones are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia need to be aware that these conditions a) do not get better, and b) can require 10 or 15 years of caregiving, depending on the age of onset.

On the Medical Front

The number of geriatricians in the U.S. has declined. Dr. Thomas Gill of the Yale Center on Aging explains that “…studies of new medical students have found that geriatrics is one of the most popular disciplines. By the end of medical school, however, it’s one of the least popular….geriatric training often focuses on the sickest, most debilitated patients and provides relatively little exposure to the large majority of older persons who are relatively healthy.” In addition, there’s the financial situation. Geriatricians just don’t earn as much as cardiologists, anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other specialized fields, and new doctors often have enormous student loans to pay off. Thus, they opt for higher paying specialties.

The Atlantic article “How Aging Is Changing America” points out that occupations like personal care aides, registered nurses, and home health aides are among the fastest growing for the next decade. Add to that all the others who work in elder care—certified medical assistants, LPNs, dieticians and cooks, housekeeping and maintenance staff, and senior living administrators—the need for skilled and caring employees will increase. How do we find, train, and keep such needed personnel? We’re already experiencing a shortage.

On the Financial Front

A sea of people

As the tsunami swells with millions of aging elders needing Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’ Services, and quality assisted living and skilled nursing care, where will the money come from? If a political administration decides it needs to cut or eliminate those federally assisted services, then what?

As any society’s population grows, its economy is stretched and stressed. With the "silver tsunami" now in place, families need to have honest conversations about future care options for loved ones (and themselves!) and the cost. There are resources available: financial planners, elder attorneys, senior living community administrators, and information from AARP have information to share. An interesting question to ask, however, is this: “Are our elected officials aware of the "silver tsunami" and its impact on families, the medical community, and federal and state budgets?” If so, what’s being planned to help our society during this alarming time? If they are not aware, why not?

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Movers and shakers inclined to take up causes and pursue solutions for the betterment of humanity will be needed. The burdens of the "senior tsunami" cannot be carried by families alone, by the medical community alone, or by the government alone.

We’re going to have to come together on this one.

What Do You Think?

Do you have concerns related to the "silver tsunami," or do you believe we’ve been through various societal crises before and it will all work out? Any specific suggestions to pass on to our government officials? Any special preparations you are making? We invite you to share your thoughts.

About the Author:

Jenny and her mom

Jenny Mummert, M.Ed., has a career background in higher education. She lives in mid-Missouri and has managed the care of her elderly parents, both of whom had dementia and lived 400 miles away. Her personal blog, “Drifting Toward Planet Elderly,” serves as therapy, a family history, and a case study of her family’s journey with dementia. Jenny’s mother now lives in Mid-Missouri where they enjoy daily morning coffee and chat time with friends at The Arbors at Mill Creek Village.

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