Within the next decade, children in the U.S. will be outnumbered by elderly Americans, according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, the number of seniors (people age 65 and older) will roughly double between now and 2030. With this dramatic demographic shift, we will have to face a new challenge: caring for those older people. But what do we do when the number of people needing caregiving exceeds the number of people who are willing or able to provide that care? We need innovative new ways to meet this growing senior living challenge.
A caregiving crisis
A majority of seniors rely on family members and friends to assist them with their care needs. A 2020 study by The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP found increasing numbers of adults who are serving as an unpaid caregiver for a senior. From 2015 to 2020, the number grew from 43.5 million to 53 million. This unpaid care accounts for about 65 percent of the care being provided to seniors today with the balance being provided by paid caregivers.
Most unpaid caregivers are female (61 percent), and the vast majority (85 percent) provide care for a relative with nearly half caring for a parent or parent-in-law. Interestingly, and also somewhat concerning, there has been a marked increase in the number of people who are caring for more than one senior. That number went from 18 percent of caregivers in 2015 to 24 percent in 2020.
However, as the baby boomers age and we witness the exponential growth in the number of seniors in this country over the next decade, these steadily upward caregiving trends simply aren’t sustainable. Something has to give. Both caregiving and the senior living industry are going to have to evolve with the increased demand.
New ways to meet seniors’ care needs
I recently saw a great article about what sorts of changes we might expect to see in the senior living industry in the years to come to address the needs of the ever-growing senior population. The article highlighted seven key areas of focus.
More single-location service offerings
Senior living communities will work to offer more services on-site, rather than making seniors travel to different locations for different care needs. Whether it’s rehabilitative therapy services, diagnostic testing, memory care, or behavioral health counselling, more communities are seeing the advantages — both for their own bottom line and the wellbeing of their residents — of bringing more comprehensive services like these in-house.
While continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, or life plan communities) already provide a full continuum of care, enhanced services like these (and even additional benefits like telehealth and alternative medicine) will no doubt add to their selling points.
Better quality, lower cost options
Currently, with senior living and care, you often get what you pay for. The result is that those with the means get better care than others. This inequity is not sustainable as the number of seniors grows. In the future, policies and regulations must be enacted to level the playing field for seniors, regardless of their financial situation. There must be creative new solutions for communal senior living that provides residents with both quality of life and quality of care by creating economies of scale.
Care in the home
Survey after survey shows that a majority of seniors would prefer to remain in their existing home as they age. Yet data also tells us that a majority of those over age 65 will require long-term care services at some point.
The availability of paid caregiving services in the home will only grow in importance as the number of seniors increases in the coming decade. Advanced wearable health-tracking devices will enhance this type of home-based care by alerting the off-site care provider of a fall, failure to take a medication, any changes in the senior’s vitals, and more. In fact, I recently wrote about the increasing popularity of the continuing care at home model (CCaH), which is already beginning to incorporate such technology, and also provides access to a higher-level of care as needed.
Supply and demand for labor
Finding adequate labor has been an ongoing challenge in the senior living and care industry. It’s low-paying work that is both physically and emotionally demanding. And with an ever-increasing number of seniors who need services, as highlighted above, the need for workers will only grow in the years to come.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for home health workers will increase 36 percent from 2018 to 2028, which equates to 7.8 million new jobs. Yet with companies like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, and Amazon raising their minimum wage to $15 per hour in many states, the $11/hour average wage for home health workers and personal care aides is a hard sell. Care providers must find new ways to compete for new employees and retain them once they are onboard.
Converting existing buildings
As the number of seniors requiring care services grows, senior living communities will need to adapt their existing facilities to accommodate this increased demand.
For example, a quarter of people over age 80 has some form of dementia. The NAC-AARP study found that between 2015 and 2020, the number of people caring for someone with dementia grew from 22 percent to 26 percent. We are approaching a tipping point. As the number of seniors in the population increases, the need for expanded memory care units will only grow. Communities also will need to up their number of beds available for residents who need care for other age-related conditions and chronic illnesses.
Consolidating the senior living industry
Savvy entrepreneurs have identified the ripe opportunity held by the senior living industry. They saw the changing demographics of our country and have seized on it, opening new facilities and properties. However, as the realities of labor costs and supply chain challenges come into focus, many of these newer industry entrants will be eager to consolidate with more established providers.
I’ve shared with you some of the technology advancements that are helping ease the burden on long-distance family caregivers, and high-tech solutions will continue to improve seniors’ lives. New innovations such as robotic assistants, remote fall alert systems, GPS tracking devices, and wearable health monitors will offer better security and safety for seniors who live in their own home or in a senior living community. And costs for such technology are coming down, making them more accessible to people of all means.
>> Related: The CCRC of the Future: Technology
Rising to the challenge
As you can see, the senior living industry and the ways we care for seniors are rapidly evolving to keep up with growing demand. Regardless of whether a senior opts to stay in their current home or chooses to move to a senior living community, there are new and better solutions on the horizon to meet their care needs as the number of seniors grows. And I am confident that this industry will continue to innovate to meet this challenge.