There are currently about 40 million elderly people in the United States, but over the next 33 years, the number of senior citizens will grow to approximately 90 million people. This is an unprecedented change to the demographic makeup of the country, with serious implications for every level of society. Case in point: There are already strains on the health care industry, and demand for more health care services will only skyrocket in the decades to come.
Of the 40 million older adults in the U.S, roughly 92% have at least one chronic disease and 77% have at least two health conditions. According to the National Council On Aging, even though chronic diseases account for 75% of the money the U.S. spends on health care, only 1% of health dollars are actually spent on public efforts to improve the nation’s overall health.
Already, health care experts are warning that the country needs to actively prepare for the future of geriatric care. Here are four areas of particular concern:
Diabetes has been a health concern for years, and it’s only going to get worse as the population ages. Diabetes currently affects 12.2 million Americans above the age of 60 years old (23% of the elderly population). And, sadly, an additional 57 million Americans over the age of 20 have pre-diabetes, which is a strong indicator of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or having a stroke later in life. A major aspect of the health care industry over the next few decades will be keeping senior citizens eating right, remaining physically active, and staying on top of their medications for diabetes.
Elderly Dental Health
Another common problem found in senior citizens is severe dental decay. Periodontal disease affects 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 and is increasingly more common in older individuals. As such, dental care is going to be in extremely high demand.
Sadly, perhaps the most difficult part of geriatric health care is the high percentage of mental health issues among the elderly. Unfortunately, many older Americans come from a generation with strong taboos against addressing mental illness. That means depression, anxiety disorders, and other forms of mental health problems often go undiagnosed and untreated. In addition to breaking the stigma surrounding mental health care, senior care workers will have to learn how to spot the symptoms of depression in older patients.
Approximately one in eight people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s in the Untied States. The amount of senior citizens with Alzheimer’s could rise to roughly 16 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can exacerbate other physical health problems, as these conditions often make it difficult for patients to practice self care.
The American Health Care Association reports that there are currently 15,655 skilled nursing care centers across the U.S., but there will most likely need to be much more over the next few years to provide assistance to the growing elderly population.
Is the Health Care System Ready To Make These Changes?
Despite the desperate need to prepare for a rapidly aging population, the U.S. health care system exists in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Now that efforts to repeal Obamacare have failed, for now, it’s unclear what the health care, insurance, and Medicare systems will look like in one year, let alone 20 years.
According to the Daily Journal, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was asked on Meet the Press about the nation’s current health care system and how it will look in the near future.
“I don’t accept the premise because we don’t have a health care system,” said Price, referring to the U.S. having a single healthcare system (the Affordable Care Act). “We have about five health care systems. You’ve got Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for those individuals who are low income or vulnerable or disabled. You’ve got the employer-sponsored coverage, where most individuals in the nation, about 175 million, get their coverage. You’ve got the VA system, and you have the individual and small-group market, where Obamacare focused its attention on setting up the exchanges.”