Modern medicine is quite miraculous, compared to what it was one century or even fifty years ago. From surgery to vaccinations to rehabilitation, modern practices are safer and more innovative than ever. While this is a very positive improvement, there are ripple effects due to this change. Along with other factors, the improvement of medical practices and standards has created a change in population trends, and health infrastructure should reflect these shifts. In the future years to come, the elderly population is predicted to be the largest demographic in America. This change can be attributed to several factors, but it is imperative that our healthcare system recalibrates to better suit the needs of the majority.
The elderly population (aged 65 years or older) is the fastest growing population; by 2030, 20% of Americans will be a part of the elderly population. In the past, the fastest growing population has been children and the middle aged. This shift can be attributed to several factors. Modern medicine has allowed people to live longer; in 1950, the average life expectancy was 68.14 years- now it is 79.05. Additionally, in recent years, there have been decreased birth rates across the world; most notably, Monaco recorded 6.63 births per 1000 people in 2021. In the case of the United States, the baby boomer generation joining the ranks of the elderly population will be a major reason why the elderly population grows.
Decreased birth rates and increased life expectancy mean that the elderly population will be needing a larger share of public health resources and dedicated health infrastructure. In America, Medicare is the most robust healthcare program for the elderly population. Criticisms include that Medicare does not cover personal care, which is non-medical everyday support, or nursing support after hospitalization. With an increasing elderly population comes an increasing prevalence of certain diseases, like dementia, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and falls. Falls are one of the most common causes of injury among the elderly population; it is expected that there will be around 700,000 hip fractures occurring by 2050.
With healthcare surrounding the elderly population, medical professionals emphasize the importance of preventative care, rather than reactive care. Preventative care for the elderly population often looks like screenings, vaccinations, and health advice. Yearly physicals, cancer and osteoporosis screenings, and the flu vaccine are all examples of preventative care. While there are already public health departments and funds dedicated to supporting specific illnesses, like cancer and diabetes, it is important to look at these issues through the lens of demographics as well. Comorbidity is often the reason for the deaths of the elderly generation, so it is imperative to focus on a multidisciplinary approach for elderly patients.
There is not a single solution to the adjustments needed to fit the healthcare system to the elderly population. However, medical professionals are relatively unanimous on a few things: EHRs, multidisciplinary care, and policy changes. EHRs, or electronic health records, can be used to determine which patients are at risk for certain conditions, which can be incredibly helpful for the elderly population. Multidisciplinary care, as mentioned earlier, is a critical component for the health of elderly patients. The elderly population is expected to have the highest rates of chronic illnesses, which can be deadly if unacknowledged. Policy changes regarding healthcare insurance are also very important and have been an ongoing conversation in politics. An example of one beneficial policy change is adopting the CAPABLE (Community Aging in Place—Advancing Better Living for Elders) model, which funnels money from community-based health services into in-home care and home repairs that supports older people’s safety and health.
Thank you for reading!
- Adeba M.