Older Adult Demographics That Will Rock Your World

Older adults are the fastest growing age cohort in the U.S. And, within the group of older adults, those aged 80 and older are the fastest growing subgroup (Pew Research).Elder care is one of the biggest challenges facing baby boomers, with an anticipated cumulative cost of over $3 trillion dollars, according to Daily Finance. Caring for elderly parents is expected to bankrupt 30% of adult children caregivers in the U.S. (The New York Times). Much of that care relates to helping elderly, frail parents who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some type of dementia.This is a very significant demographic trend that which has serious repercussions for us and our communities for decades to come.People are living longer. They are remaining frail and in need of care for more years than was the case 10 or 20 years ago. Many states are reporting an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, both in terms of raw numbers and as a ratio to the overall population.The issues of elder care are receiving a growing amount of press coverage, including a series on ABC World News, and articles in major newspapers and magazines. Amazon.com has over 33,000 books with “older adults” in the title, and over 10,000 books that deal with Alzheimer’s disease.An increasing proportion of middle aged adults find themselves in a position where they need to provide some level of care for a frail elderly parent who suffers from Alzheimer’s. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of caregivers are women in their middle years, who may also be caring for teenagers or young adults in college. In fact, almost 75% of caregivers are middle aged women who spend 18 hours a week on average caring for their mothers. They are the “sandwich generation,” caught in between the needs of their children and their parents. The baby boomers of today are likely to spend more years caring for a parent than for their children (“Caregiving to Aging Parents,” by Durant and Christian, Forum on Public Policy). And pressures are increasing as the number of frail elderly continues to grow.As you look at the this demographic revolution, consider its short and long term impact on our families and communities.1. The older adult population is continuing to grow. The proportion of elderly, and especially frail elderly, to the population at large is increasing each year. The number of older adults in need of support is increasing, and in many states, severely taxing our resources. The trend is long term, and will not peak for many years.2. Adult children need information, resources, help and support as they deal with the needs of frail parents with dementia. When we consider the sheer numbers of middle aged people caring for elderly parents, it seems clear that having good resources and support are not only aids to adult children, they can also have a significant impact on workplace productivity and community strength. A number of businesses in the U.S. provide resources to their employees to help them deal with elder care.3. Current community resources are not adequate to the task, and more funding is needed in order to maintain even a basic level of services to this fast growing population. Many communities conduct needs assessments, and develop plans for community growth and development, covering areas such as economic and demographic trends, transportation, housing, and services. Community leaders need to ensure that needs of older adults and an analysis of community services are also included in, and service4. Agencies should develop a mix of services and payor sources. A mix of integrated home and community based services is needed. The federal government has already begun to reduce payment levels to hospitals for those older adults that are readmitted within 30 days, and this trend will continue. Communities need to develop and build the system of care in such a way that there are more non-institutionalized options, thus reducing the amount of time an elderly person needs to stay in a hospital or nursing home, and increasing home and community based options. Community nonprofits also need to build a base of services that will allow for more. This would include sliding fee scale services, which would allow them to expand their program offerings and diversify their budgets. They would receive revenue from older adults who can pay, to help subsidize services for those with limited incomes.5. Policy changes at all levels of government are absolutely essential to building an adequate system of care. It is critical that we create local and state policies that support home and community service development. There need to be policy, tax and budget changes at state and federal levels that will provide incentives and support for core community services. Agencies need to develop service and budget plans that allow for additional revenue streams, including private pay and third party payor options.We will need to gather all of our community and state resources to understand and respond to this demographic trend that is shaking our world. It is important that we develop strategies now to ensure that needed services are available to older adults and their families in the years to come.