The Silver Tsunami: What Senior Population Growth Means for You
The good news is that people are living longer than ever. Between improved health care and scientific advancements, many of the illnesses that used to kill people are easier to fight off. As such, seniors today can count on a high likelihood that they’ll live beyond the ages their parents and grandparents did.
We’ve been seeking longevity for as long as humans have been around and have made big strides in that direction, so what bad news could there possible be? You may have already heard some of the hand wringing from experts concerned about the large-scale influences of a growing population of seniors. While on an individual level, most people are thrilled to know we’ll be around longer and have more time with our aging loved ones, but our culture is struggling to catch up to the resources needed to accommodate a larger senior population.
What’s the Silver Tsunami?
Due to the concerns that the idea of a rapidly growing senior population inspires, the phenomenon has (rather dramatically) been likened to a catastrophic storm. News agencies love their provocative buzzwords though, so the phrase has become the main term used to refer to the fact that in the next 25 years, the number of people over the age of 65 is set to double. Life expectancy is creeping up – experts expect 110 to be the average age people live to by 2030. And seniors will soon outnumber children under the age of 5.
A demographic shift that large will necessarily bring with it many other changes.
The Issues that Come with an Aging Population
There are three main areas of our economy and society that will be most affected by “the silver tsunami.”
1. Health Care Resources
Those great strides we’ve made in longevity haven’t translated to finding the solutions for many of the difficulties that come with aging. Most of the seniors living longer aren’t experiencing perfect health to their last day. As the senior population grows, so does the number of people dealing with dementia. Illnesses that disproportionately affect seniors like cancer, arthritis, and heart disease are also becoming more common.
All that adds up to a much greater need for health care professionals as well as facilities like assisted living homes and nursing homes to help accommodate the growing population. There’s currently a nursing home building boom meant to help prepare the nation for a likely spike in need when the baby boomers start to reach their late 70s and early 80s. Job growth in many health care professions has been steadily increasing for a while, but the need will only grow in years to come. Whether or not enough new nurses, doctors, home health aids, physician’s assistants and so on will rise to the occasion to fill the need remains to be seen.
Of particular concern is a current shortage of geriatric specialists. Many healthcare professionals currently serving in other roles may find themselves increasingly providing geriatric care, whether or not they plan to now. Some organizations have called for greater geriatric training for healthcare professionals of all types and higher pay for geriatric specialists to help fill in the gaps in knowledge in time to help the large number of senior patients that will need care.
2. Economic Struggles
As you likely already know, nursing home and assisted living care can quickly get expensive. The costs associated with caring for seniors are expected to put a serious strain on the Medicare system. As baby boomers start to reach the age of 65, about 10,000 new people enroll in Medicare every day. Each patient typically costs Medicare about $450,000 over the lifetime of their enrollment. Multiply that number by the millions of seniors joining or soon-to-join the ranks of Medicare recipients and you have a program with serious long-term funding issues.
Of more direct concern to many families, aging loved ones put a strain on the pocketbooks (and savings accounts) of their own family. The cost of a long stay in a nursing home is simply staggering. Assisted living and in-home care don’t cost quite as much as a nursing home, but they still get very costly. Even families that make the investment in long-term care insurance early are likely to find the expenses difficult to manage, especially for loved ones that live in senior care facilities for many years.
3. Workforce Influence
Lest all this sound hopeless and awful, many seniors will stay healthy long enough to work past the age they may have had in mind for retirement. With the likely costs of healthcare and assisted living on the horizon, not to mention grand retirement plans in mind, a growing number of seniors are choosing to stick around in their jobs a bit longer to make sure they have a healthier nest egg when the time comes to retire.
Even with the growing number of employees choosing to stay in their jobs longer, employers know that large waves of retirements are on the horizon. On the one hand, they have high-paid senior workers with greater health care needs taking the slots younger employees are hoping will become available for them. On the other, they have large numbers of people with many years of valuable knowledge planning to leave any day now, leaving slots that will need to be filled by people who must be trained almost from scratch.
On both sides of the issues, workplaces will have to strain to adapt to the change.
What Can You Do About It?
A lot of these problems exist on a systemic level that individuals can’t do too much about, but those who see the coming tide can take some steps to be more prepared when it hits land.
- Start saving as early as possible. Living life for the moment can mean leaving your older self stuck in a unpleasant facility when you reach the age to need nursing home care. The more you have saved away, the more options you and your family will have for senior care when you reach the age that you need it.
- Consider retiring later than planned. You’ll need enough money to live off of for all the years you have left. If your retiring calculations were based on living to your 80s, the growing prevalence of centenarians suggests you may need to reconsider how much you need saved.
- Look into long-term care insurance. It can really ease the financial burden of a long stay in assisted living or a nursing home.
- If you’re still young enough to pursue a new profession, consider health care (or urge your family members to). This tip won’t help out those on the cusp of retirement or already there, but for everyone else, health care’s an extremely lucrative field to go into. If you have a grandkid trying to figure out the right career path, suggest geriatric care.
- Talk to your family about your options and desires before it’s necessary. Many families don’t like to discuss things like assisted living or how to handle the financial costs if a loved one gets Alzheimer’s, but it’s so much easier to tackle the challenges of aging if you have a plan. Talk to your family now so you’re all better prepared when the time comes to make the hard decisions.
- Research your different senior living options well in advance and have a plan (or several). There’s no reason to wait until you need them. Look into what options are available in your area now. You could even volunteer at some of the local homes – both to brighten the days of those already there, and to get a better feel for the places that could become your potential home.
Maybe by the time you reach 80, 90, or 100, researchers will have found a cure for Alzheimer’s and some of these problems will be solved. Maybe you won’t make it to 100 (although more people reading this will than they would have at any other point in history). We can’t know for sure what will happen, but we can make some pretty educated guesses about the influence a larger population of seniors will have on our culture. If you take some steps to be prepared now, you may just be one of the ones to weather the tsunami best when it hits.