Seniors represent 16.9% of the U.S population and projections show that one in five Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. The pandemic likely disrupted some of the trends that could have impacted senior care, but it is time to re-focus attention on this large and growing cohort. They can present with complex healthcare and social needs. What are the trends about which healthcare leaders should be aware in 2023?
While the percentage of Americans over the age of 65 is significant, it is also important to note that by the year 2050, one in five older adults will be over the age of 85. This, along with the fact that the average life expectancy has continued to increase (despite the temporary decrease caused by the pandemic) has some significant implications for healthcare providers all along the continuum of care. Homecare may be helpful for many seniors, especially those that choose to age in place, but it is somewhat more critical for older seniors.
As mobility becomes more of an issue for seniors, telehealth services and mail order pharmacies may play more of a role in healthcare for seniors. Cardiovascular disease, vision and hearing loss, lower levels of mobility and dementia are associated with this cohort and are more likely and more pronounced in seniors over the age of 85. Healthcare organizations will need strategies to provide for these needs.
While older adults may be less facile with some types of technology, it will nonetheless play an increasing role in their healthcare. Telehealth became an important solution during the pandemic as healthcare organizations and providers sought to find safe ways to connect with patients. It continued to grow in popularity as providers, patients and insurers began to embrace this technology. Going forward, this option may be even more attractive to seniors with mobility and/or transportation issues.
Wearable devices such as Fitbits and smart watches have helped consumers be more informed and aware of some of their key health and fitness metrics. They may be less accepted among the senior cohort, but could provide valuable insight into health and fitness when used.
Smart detection devices that can indicate when a senior has fallen, encountered other hazards, or needs assistance, motion-activated lighting, and digital pill dispensers can also help ensure health and safety for seniors, particularly for those who have chosen to age in place.
During the pandemic, seniors (like their counterparts in other demographic groups) reported mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse. These problems have been on the rise during the pandemic and healthcare providers will need to be diligent about watching for signs and symptoms of mental health issues in older patients.
In her annual review of the Top Ten Trends in Healthcare, Robin Rose, MHA and Thought Leadership Consultant for HealthStream, highlighted the trend of integrating behavioral health and primary care. While this has implications beyond the senior adult population, it does mean that seniors can benefit from a more seamless integration of behavioral and primary care services. This approach may also result in better care as mental health and primary care providers can collaborate and continuously coordinate care.
The pandemic sidelined some healthcare trends and fast-tracked others. Hospital-at-home is clearly in the second category. This model allows some patients who need acute care to receive that care at home. While the concept may seem very new, it has actually been in development by The Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine and Public Health since 1995.
Patients are carefully evaluated to ensure that they meet the validated criteria to be safely and effectively cared for at home. The patient is then evaluated by a physician on a daily basis and receives a visit from a physician once per day. Patients also receive extended nursing care for the initial portion of their hospital-at-home stay and then daily and sometimes more frequent visits, as necessary. Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are performed at home unless that is not possible and then the patient is transferred back to the hospital. This care model could be very attractive to seniors who prefer to be cared for in their own homes and wish to avoid the risks associated with transportation and hospitalization.
Seniors being cared for at home by family members will become less of an option over time. As the number of people over the age of 80 is expected to increase by 79% by 2030 as the first of the baby boomers reach that age, the number of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 will increase by just 1%. The good news is that the older cohort is arriving at this stage of life in substantially better health than their predecessors, but the likely increase in demand for senior care services could result in substantially higher costs for those that need it or difficulties in obtaining services at all.
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