One of the most pressing issues facing healthcare today is population aging. Sometimes called the “grey wave” or “silver tsunami,” population aging is the shift in average age of a population from younger to older ages.
Current projections from the U.S. Census Bureau point to 2030 as a milestone year in which older people will outnumber children for the first time in history. All baby boomers will be older than age 65 and one in every five residents will be retirement age.
What population aging means for healthcare
In addition to the increasing number of individuals older than 65, we are also experiencing a significant increase in the life expectancy of older adults given improvements in nutrition, physical activity and medical care. The net effect, however, is the same – an increased number of people consuming more healthcare services.
In terms of direct impact on healthcare, an aging population will increase the demand for primary and specialty physicians, chronic disease management, age-friendly environments, and long-term care to more effectively meet the needs of aging adults at home and in their communities.
Because these all have a cost, healthcare organizations (HCO) will need to take creative steps to manage the needs of aging adults. Without thoughtfully considering the scope and volume of the evolving needs of the population, health systems will become overwhelmed as this demographic shift continues.
This issue spans outside of the United States
Singapore, a country with one of the world’s highest life expectancies, will also be affected from the aging population trend. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans is expected to be over 65. As in the U.S., population aging will significantly increase healthcare costs and a transformation in how healthcare is delivered to meet the needs of an aging population.
How can healthcare prepare for population aging?
As with any business strategy, HCOs must start by identifying a shared goal with their patients and community — in this case, healthy aging. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines healthy aging “as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.”
While healthy aging means different things to different people, the primary goal is “creating environments and opportunities that enable people to be and do what they value throughout their lives.”
The next step is to identify the current services they must expand and new services they must provide to successfully support patients and meet them “where they are.” Whether primary care or specialty care, care coordination and chronic disease management, or long-term care to enable patients to “age in place,” HCOs must consider the right balance of talented people and helpful technology to optimize healthy aging.
Rapid population aging will undoubtedly create challenges for health systems in the U.S. and across the world. By understanding patient and community priorities and working with them to provide needed support and services, health systems and communities can successfully achieve healthy aging.