For more than 10 years, my mother woke up early to prepare us for school and to care for my grandparents. With patience and love, she helped my grandfather, who suffered from cancer, and my grandmother, who suffered from dementia and various other illnesses, prepare for the day. She was the primary caretaker for each until their respective last day; many elderly Americans are not so lucky.
While today’s senior citizens are living longer and more fulfilling lives after retirement, they are still suffering from diabetes, cancer, dementia, and various other ailments that require special attention and care. Many baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have fewer children willing or able to care for them and are competing for care from a decreasing number of geriatric health care professionals. We need to establish working public and social health goals to protect our silver generation.
- In 2012, 15,643 nursing homes participated in Medicaid and Medicare programs, a number that has been steadily decreasing since 2001. Other options, such as assisted living facilities and retirement centers are less likely to accept Medicaid and Medicare and can cost an average of $3,300 per month.
- To meet the demands of aging Americans, assisted living facilities with medical care but more freedom should be established. Every senior has his or her own personal needs, but not every senior needs round-the-clock medical care and many cannot afford it. Public health experts need to evaluate the ways in which we can increase the number of available spots for seniors while decreasing expenses. It isn’t always possible for elderly people to live alone or with family; we need to find a better method for keeping these seniors happy and safe.
- By 2030, the last of the baby boomers will have reached 65 years old; health care professionals trained in geriatrics will need to care for more than 70 million seniors. With an already stretched and underpaid workforce, the American Geriatrics Society warns that without proper incentives to attract health care professionals to the field, we could face an “access-to-care” crisis. Some of the incentives proposed include loan forgiveness programs to physicians shouldering massive medical school debt and Title VII funding for training nurses in geriatric care.
- The biggest challenges to Social Security and pension programs are our increasing life expectancies and the increase in retired seniors in a short period of time. By 2030, it is projected that the average man will live 19.5 years beyond retirement and the average woman 21.7 years compared to an average of 12.5 years when Social Security started in 1935. Although care of the elderly is extremely important, many fear that it will come at the cost of taxing the young.
- Lastly, an understanding of the fears and obstacles that caretakers such as children, grandchildren, or spouses face may help to increase the number of people willing to care for their elderly family members. Establishing better access to part-time home care and providing tax deductions may allow seniors to have what they wish for – more time with family in their own homes.
With our nation’s poor track record for planning ahead, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are not prepared to care for our aging citizens. The time to set aside funds and begin training a new workforce is now. Our senior citizens deserve repayment for their years of hard work and the many contributions to the world we enjoy today.
Myriam Bostwick is the Communications Director of a non-profit organization in New York City. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Health in Community Health Education and is most interested in the relationship between media, communications, and public health issues. She lives in Queens, NY, with her husband and two pets, Lily and Charlie. Follow Myriam on Twitter at @myriambostwick.