Longevity & Disease: The Increase of Years and Care

With baby boomers reaching 65 at a rate of 19,000 per day, there is no question that this generation will have an impact on aging, healthcare, and eldercare. The combination of the increasing age of the population and the decrease in physicians who specialize in geriatrics is just one of the many complications we are facing around the nation and the world. For those that treat and provide care for patients with various types of dementia and cancer, the word “tsunami” and “epidemic” are being used a great deal, which communicates how unprepared we appear in comparison to the immanent changes and overwhelm that is expected. Our risks for chronic illnesses increase as we age, but both dementia and cancer have had very steep increases within the aging population. While those age 65+ are expected to double by 2030, it is estimated that there will also be a 67% increase in the cancer diagnoses among individuals in that age group. As it is, 50% of all cancer cases are diagnosed in individuals age 65 and older and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Even though our ancestors had shorter lifespans due to environmental factors like harsh living, predators, and disease, we now enjoy a good 20-30 years more than many of them. However, with this new found longevity we are seeing an extension of the years toward the end of life when we are most vulnerable to disease and chronic illness. We are extending both our lifespan and the years where we will likely need more healthcare and long-term care services.

Not only are these changes the topic of conversation within the medical and healthcare world, but the eldercare world is paying very close attention to these population changes as well. It is also seeing a decrease in the number of certified nursing assistants and home care aides that provide the day-to-day long-term care for aging adults and vulnerable individuals who are managing chronic illnesses while aging in place. Not only is more and more care becoming necessary, but individuals are coming to agencies with much more complex care needs. While a person over the age of 65 has a 70% chance of using some long-term care in their lifetime, what type and how much is greatly impacedt by a number of factors including: finances, lifestyle and health, family support, chronic illnesses, etc.

While we are seeing these changes occur at a systemic level, it is really the individual families that are acting as a microcosm for an entire aging population. The home is the front line of conversation and questions such as how are we going to afford long-term care, how much should we be saving, what can we expect in terms of care needs and how can we best plan to cope with the changes? These questions are writ large across every hospital, care facility, and research lab. While we may not have the answers, one of the best things that families can do is begin to have conversation about what it means for your family to age well and adapt to its changing needs. Who are the professionals and family that you will rely on to accompany you in addressing the financial, medical, legal, and emotional aspects of aging well? The conversation begins with you.    

Published on February 9, 2015.