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Silver Tsunami: Can Our Healthcare System Adapt to Aging Population and Mental Health Challenges?

February 16, 2024
February 16, 2024

As healthcare continues to evolve at breakneck speed, staying ahead of the curve is crucial for leaders. HealthStream's annual white paper, authored by industry expert Robin Rose, MHA, identifies the top ten trends poised to reshape the landscape in the coming year. This blog series delves into each trend.

Silver Tsunami: Can Our Healthcare System Adapt to Aging Population and Mental Health Challenges?

The US is witnessing a demographic shift of unparalleled scale. With over 10,000 people turning 65 every day, the "silver tsunami" of aging baby boomers is upon us. By 2030, all 73 million of them will be over 65, bringing a unique set of challenges to our healthcare system.

Mental Health Crisis Looms Large

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis among older adults. Lack of access to Medicare providers and essential services has left between 25-30% (20 million) struggling with anxiety and depression. Additionally, millions face substance use disorders, including opioid addiction (Miller, 2022). Expanding Medicare's provider network to include mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, and other specialists is crucial to address this growing need.

Technology as a Lifesaver

Technology is transforming aging adult care. From smartphones and laptops designed for senior use with larger buttons and displays to personal emergency response services (PERS), innovations are improving lives.

Telehealth holds immense promise for assisted living and home care. Recent initiatives by primary care organizations are paving the way for seniors to embrace telehealth. These initiatives address key challenges, such as lack of technology access, medical limitations, digital literacy gaps, and the need for remote vital sign monitoring.

Hospitals Adapt to Aging Populations

Hospitals are undergoing significant changes to cater to the needs of older patients. These include:

  • Facility Design: Modifying lighting to improve sleep, using large-print signage and calendars, providing reading glasses and hearing amplifiers, installing automatic doors and lower exam tables, using taller chairs with arms, and improving wayfinding within the facility.
  • Technology: Implementing telehealth options, offering assistive devices, and ensuring accessible websites and electronic medical records.
  • Healthcare Delivery: Training staff on geriatric care, offering specialized services like geriatric psychiatry and fall prevention programs, and creating a more patient-centered environment.

The healthcare system needs to be prepared for the silver tsunami. This requires:

  • Increased awareness: Healthcare leaders must recognize the trends and issues impacting aging adults.
  • Policy changes: Expanding Medicare coverage for mental health services and embracing telehealth are crucial steps.
  • Investments in technology: Hospitals and healthcare providers should invest in assistive technology and telehealth solutions.
  • Staff training: Healthcare professionals need ongoing training on geriatric care and best practices for serving older adults.

By adapting to the changing needs of our aging population, we can ensure that everyone receives the quality care they deserve. This requires a collaborative effort from healthcare providers, policymakers, and individuals. By working together, we can ensure the best outcomes for this important segment of the population.

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Miller J. How to improve access to mental health and substance use care for older adults. National Council on Aging (NCOA). May 18, 2022.