All around the world, humanity is aging at an unprecedented rate, and the United States is no exception. Right now, around 13 percent of the population is made up of men and women over age 65. By 2020, that will rise to 30 percent, and by 2050, the elderly will officially outnumber children for the first time in human history. These statistics have caused economists to cry doom and gloom for at least a decade now, and they’ve been partly responsible for the colossal growth of the healthcare industry. Demand for elderly care professionals is rising, but it’s helpful to understand what exactly the elderly have to worry about. The focus on affordable and accessible healthcare, early disease detection, and helping Americans be active and secure well into their golden years has never been greater. These are the biggest pitfalls of growing older in the 21st century.
Lack of Exercise and Nutrition
Staying active and eating right is more of a focus for every age group, but seniors face a specific challenge when it comes to healthy habits. It’s scientifically proven that movement can stave off serious diseases like cancer and diabetes. As people get older, they tend to become less active, and in a country already struggling with the effects of obesity, an aging and inactive population is a huge burden for the healthcare industry. That’s why senior living communities and nursing homes are putting an emphasis on social exercise programs which offer seniors the ability to connect with each other and relieve depression and illness through activity. The AARP states over 60 percent of Americans older than 65 are considered sedentary. Enticing them to exercise just a little each week can improve their quality of life and actually increase their mental capacity well into their 90s.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Most people don’t commonly associate drug and alcohol abuse with seniors, but it is a growing problem. According to The Huffington Post, 3 million American seniors suffer from addiction, and that number is expected to triple by 2020 as Baby Boomers continue to age. While alcohol abuse is the most common, seniors are increasingly forming addictions to marijuana and prescription drugs which help them cope with chronic illnesses and pain. The right mental health care for seniors should address these substance abuse problems, which can be one of many causes of dementia. There is also an increasing need for seniors to be treated for depression and suicidal thoughts. Suicide is more common in older men than in any other demographic, with white men over 85 committing suicide at 6 times the national rate.
While the Affordable Care Act is designed to give millions of uninsured patients access to healthcare, it also includes serious cuts to Medicare and perimeters that make it more difficult for low-income hospitals to get Medicare payments. Over 40 percent of low-income adults are uninsured, and while virtually everyone over 65 qualifies for Medicare, it may become harder and harder to get the coverage seniors need. Seniors rely on resources found at healthtestingcenters, free dental clinics, and urgent care to diagnose serious conditions that their doctors may overlook. There’s also a growing demand for many areas of senior care that never existed before and shortages of nurses and doctors who can provide at-home care or work in nursing homes. It’s becoming increasingly hard for sick seniors to get seen.
Weather and Environment
As Americans get older, extreme weather due to climate change is getting worse, and seniors are the most vulnerable group when it comes to weather and pollution-related illnesses. The expected rise in the number of heat waves, especially in cities that aren’t normally accustomed to them, can be deadly for seniors living below the poverty line. They are also more likely than younger adults to suffer respiratory and heart conditions from living in urban areas near freeway traffic. Research on just how serious the environment can impact the health of the elderly is ongoing, but conditions that result from long-term exposure to toxins in the air are on the rise.
It’s important to remember that a disproportionally high number of seniors live in poverty, which makes the health risks more extreme in every situation. As the number of over-65 citizens grows, more ways to provide them affordable treatment are needed. The healthcare industry is preparing for a changing world, and hopefully the younger generation will take embracing and protecting its elders more seriously than ever before.
Karen Alton is a full-time writer for health blogs. If you want to learn more about keeping up your health, check out her other articles at Twitter @HTCKarenA.