An article on Medill Reports discusses the startling reality that our aging population is predicted to explode in the coming years, more than doubling in size by the year 2050. The problem with such a population explosion is access to care. As the number of people age 65 and older continue to rise, the number of health care providers, geriatric specialists and long-term care practitioners declines, reports Elizabeth Bahm.
Of even greater concern, the number of people age 85 and older is expected to quadruple in size before 2050, as life expectancy lengthens and the quality of health care and preventative medicine improve. But as we age, our needs increase, putting an even greater demand on an already stressed health care system.
The Association of Healthcare Journalists held a series of panels related to the growing aging population. One panelist, Herbert Sier, associate chief of geriatric medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, notes that 14,000 additional geriatricians are necessary to meet the demands of the current aging population. But instead of rising, the number of geriatricians is falling: Currently, there are only 7,600 geriatricians, and the numbers have fallen 22% over the past decade.
Geriatrics may be getting a bad rap, accounting for fewer students choosing to specialize in the fields of geriatric nursing or geriatric medicine. Low pay, long hours, and less than attractive working conditions come to mind for most students, while the more positive aspects of the geriatrics field aren’t discussed as often: the wealth of knowledge and companionship offered by the elderly and the great feelings of satisfaction that come with improving the quality — and possibly quantity — of life for the older generation.
High turnovers in the nursing and caregiver professions add to already high costs for facilities, making it necessary to constantly recruit and train new professionals. It also contributes to feelings of instability for residents, Bahm notes.
Active Lifestyles Account for Healthy Aging
While the health care system will have to struggle to keep up, the news is good for people who want to pursue an active lifestyle for many years. Active living is one recipe for living a long, healthy, and vibrant life, as the panels discovered. It’s becoming more and more common for people to live much longer and maintain their cognitive and physical capabilities. It’s these people, Bahm notes, that will drive the future of our health care system by demanding innovative alternatives to current standards of care.
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