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With an Aging Population, How Will Nursing and Healthcare Change in the US?

The United States healthcare system is anticipating interesting decades ahead, thanks to baby boomers. As they approach retirement age, baby boomers (the generation born after World War II who will all be 65 or above by 2030) will undoubtedly impact the nursing profession’s future. 

By 2030, every member of this generation will be at least 70 years old. As a result, the healthcare industry will become more burdened and stressed as this sizable population segment ages and needs more medical care.

Undoubtedly the number of working nurses will be forced to grow, alongside a dramatic shift in resource allocation to accommodate patient needs as the percentage of older adults likewise increases.

Why the aging population will need more care

The US healthcare system will be significantly impacted by the predicted rise of the older adult population over the next 50 years, particularly regarding the supply and demand for healthcare personnel. As well as an increasing number of patients, many healthcare workers from this generation will retire or cut back on their work hours as they age.

The demand for health services will change the system as older persons continue to utilize a disproportionately big part of American healthcare. More than just making room for all these patients, the type of knowledge, abilities, and services the health care staff must possess and the environments in which this care is delivered will change to accommodate these needs.

The United States will need compassionate people who will take the next step toward a fulfilling career in nursing to decrease the adverse effects on its aging population. Nurses will be needed more than ever. Organizations such as the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services track the number of long-term care facilities and currently list 298 nursing facilities and 222 assisted living/residential facilities in the state. If you are passionate about helping the sick, you might wonder how to become a nurse in Kansas. Rockhurst University Online offers flexible and convenient learning options for aspiring nursing professionals.

The university offers three types of degrees that prepare you to become a registered nurse. The ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing), BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), and ABSN (Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing) provide hands-on nursing skills that you require for the job market. 

The aging population and life expectancy

The United States is handling an impending senior population surge due to the increased life expectancy and rapid population growth over the last few decades. In the 1960s, the average life expectancy was slightly less than 70 years, with a population of more than 200 million people. However, the life expectancy had risen to about 79 years by 2016, with a population of more than 323 million.  

Additionally, several health conditions are expected to challenge the United States healthcare system as the aging population grows. They include the following: 

  • Cancer

The aging population is at risk of cancer, as about 60% of cancer patients are 65 years and older. Unfortunately, the number of cancer cases is expected to increase from 17 million in 2020 to 27 million by 2030.

  • Dementia

With the aging population projected to grow, so will the burden of dementia. By 2050, 139 million people worldwide are expected to have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

  • Increase in falls

The US healthcare system will likely face a challenge due to the increase in falls, as they are among the most common causes of injury in the elderly population. The increase directly relates to the Baby Boomers’ extended lifespans, continued physical activity, and potential use of fall-risk drugs.

According to statistics, more than one-third of persons 65 and older fall. Besides, 20% to 30% of those who fall experience moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures, that limit their mobility and independence every year. In 2000, there were nearly 350,000 hip fractures; by 2050, that number is anticipated to double.

  • Obesity

Old-age obesity is associated with a reduction in quality of life and mobility. In addition to being a risk factor for numerous illnesses, obesity is also quite expensive: people who are obese cost the Medicare program about 34% more than patients of average weight.

  • Diabetes

Other statistics show that 1 in every four boomers will be living with diabetes, and the number is expected to rise from 30 million in 2020 to 46 million in 2030.

How the aging population is affecting the nursing profession

Keeping in mind that a large percentage of healthcare is accessed later in life, the rising population of the elderly in the United States will affect the sector, particularly the nursing profession. Here are some of the impacts the sector is already experiencing:

  • Increasing the impending scarcity of nurses

Fewer skilled nurses are available to address patients’ acute and chronic care needs than ever before. Many people are anticipated to live longer with multiple chronic comorbidities due to contemporary medicine and care management developments. 

Approximately 40% of Medicare beneficiaries will live with three or more chronic diseases in the next ten years. It also means that the population will require more geriatric services and care for longer due to the increased complexity of care associated with chronic care management. This will necessitate more healthcare professionals, worsening the current nursing shortage.

  • Increasing the number of burnout and turnover incidents

Facilities will need help to fill shifts with a diminishing workforce as acute, and post-acute facilities become overrun with managing the ailing and aging population. As a result, facilities may expect their internal nurses to work extra hours to fill the gaps in their schedule to avoid operating with insufficient staff and risking falling out of compliance. 

Unfortunately, this temporary fix can result in burnout, and staff turnover will increase due to staff inevitable exhaustion. Today, nearly a third of nurses have reported experiencing burnout, which results in exhaustion, irritability, and a checked-out mentality. 

The situation results in poor patient experiences and mistakes when offering care. Burnout is also a leading cause of increased turnover in the nursing profession.

  • Laying the foundation for innovative nursing practices

Facilities need to discover innovative ways to manage their employees if nurses are to stay in the profession and patients are to receive adequate treatment. The advent of the gig economy in the healthcare sector is one innovative trend that is now taking place. Nursing professionals have more independence and flexibility to create their schedules thanks to mirroring practices of the gig economy. 

Like an Uber driver accepts requests from users looking for rides, accepting shift opportunities through staffing apps is a new way of nursing. With this model, nurses can design their work schedule around their wellbeing and commitments, rather than the other way around, and choose whether to work extra hours.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the workforce is becoming more and more practical. Some hospitals have already started using robots to carry out precise nursing tasks that do not require a human touch. Nurses can now spend more time monitoring patients’ wellbeing and less time delivering medication thanks to technological advancement.

  • Rising demand for hospice care

In exchange for hospice care, patients forgo the hospital to manage their sickness. The emphasis shifts to delivering comfortable care and helping the patient achieve good mental health and other personal goals. The need for hospice services grows along with the aging population with life-threatening illnesses. 

For a patient, hospice benefits include nurses, health assistants, social workers, chaplains, and counselors to support them and their families. Other benefits include medical supplies, medications for pain and symptom management, rehabilitation therapy, and, in certain situations, lodging.

  • Increase in wages and benefits to retain nurses

The aging population requires chronic care management, more senior services, and long-term care. As a result, the demands for in-home caregivers, certified nursing assistants, and personal attendants are proliferating.

Unfortunately, home care agencies find it hard to retain workers due to low wages. Nurses report feeling undervalued and underpaid as they earn lower salaries than their counterparts in the hospital setting (their wages are nearly two-thirds lower than average).

  • Demand for better care

Because older Americans are more likely to have completed high school and college than in the past, and because the information is more readily available than ever, older persons are more likely to be knowledgeable about medical procedures and services. 

Due to their greater education, they are more likely to seek specific services and health information. They may have overall better health due to their lifetime access to better healthcare and increased personal knowledge about their conditions. Many people will also have more disposable income to spend on uninsured medical expenses and demand better health care services. This can be beneficial and harmful to nursing, depending on the patient’s attitude. A good patient listens to their nurse and gives them the most accurate description of their symptoms. An unhelpful patient may assume any information they have read is the truth and refuse to allow professionals to examine other possibilities. Either way, the healthcare system will be under pressure to provide the best care.

Recommended solutions to the problem brought about by the aging population

This demographic change will require strategies enabling older adults to live independently for as long as possible. 

The strategies should also provide quality healthcare for older adults self-managing multiple chronic illnesses to live a quality life. Here are some of the strategies in place that will bring much-needed relief to the already strained healthcare system:

  1. Develop an adequately prepared workforce

For older persons, a larger and better-trained staff base is required. Improving the workforce in the healthcare industry calls for raising the level of expertise of all healthcare practitioners, increasing the hiring, and retaining of geriatrics specialists, and restructuring care delivery models for more effective use of the current workforce.

  1. Strengthen public health’s role

In the past, improvements in public health, such as immunization campaigns and smoking cessation programs, have benefited older persons. Still, aging services and programs have not been a priority for public health. 

However, current work aimed at developing age-friendly public health systems that use public health expertise and capability is gaining traction. The need for an age-friendly public health system is acknowledged, and the system’s abilities and capabilities are used to enhance the health and wellbeing of older persons.

  1. Address inequities and disparities

Social determinants of health are conditions in which individuals are born, grow, live, work, and age shaped by the allocation of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels.

Harmful social determinants of health can have a lifelong effect on those impacted, increasing their risk of illness, mortality, suffering, and financial costs. 

Age-related health risks and lower chances for optimal wellbeing are more likely to present in older persons who have experienced structural and systemic racism or poverty throughout their lives.

The aging population eligible for Medicare and Medicaid should be enrolled for the coverage that sees them enjoy benefits associated with the social determinants of health. For instance, this entails people on medically prescribed diets receiving healthy groceries, those with asthma getting air conditioners, and those who are immunocompromised getting home-delivered meals. 

  1. Create new methods for delivering care 

Medicare and Medicaid have undergone measures that have lowered obstacles to telemedicine and encouraged its use. Medical professional organizations have approved telehealth, and telehealth practitioners have shown improved patient health results. However, telehealth and other virtual services must be modified to meet the needs and capacities of all older persons. 

The establishment of public-private partnerships, legislative action, financial incentives, and demonstration projects at the federal and state levels should all be channeled toward the advancements in telehealth and technology.

Older persons have been disproportionately impacted by limited access to technology, low digital health literacy, and subpar patient portal and app design, especially in impoverished communities.

Broadband access should be increased, and older people and diverse populations should be included in the design and testing of new portals and apps. Older folks should often be questioned about their access to technology while taking sociodemographic and literacy metrics into account. 

Adaptive solutions, such as a remote cognitive evaluation to detect the change and video monitoring to help with safe medication management, have proven useful clinical tools for persons with cognitive, sensory, and functional impairments.

  1. Provide funds for palliative and terminal care

Serious illnesses with a high mortality risk significantly affect a person’s daily function or quality of life or unduly stress a person’s caretakers, affecting many older people. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of elderly persons have prepared for such illnesses. As a result, they live their sunset years with a large burden of physical and psychological distress, functional reliance, and poor quality of life. 

Due to the scarcity of cures for these patients, the focus should change from disease-focused care to patient-centered care, which considers each patient’s unique preferences, requirements, and values. With such care, all clinical choices are made with the patient’s values in mind. Such treatment solicits and aims to achieve personal health priorities and goals.

Although it is underutilized, palliative care is an evidence-based strategy that enhances outcomes for people with critical illnesses. Regardless of the prognosis, more needs to be done to increase access to and utilization of these services across contexts and the course of serious illness.

  1. Prepare for increased incidences of chronic conditions

The healthcare system must establish prevention methods and plans to deal with the aging population’s rising incidences of chronic diseases. Implementing innovative strategies in health care delivery to address the changing health status of an aging population is a significant step that must be taken. 

As the prevalence of chronic illnesses rises in this population, so does the complexity of their medical care. Lack of attention to other current medical disorders might occur from focusing on a single disease rather than comorbidity. 

Instead, the healthcare system must get ready to use a multidisciplinary approach to ensure patients receive better case management. Additionally, there needs to be an emphasis on providing preventive, rather than reactive, care. 

A more thorough care plan before discharge, the development of a program to help monitor patients, and a system to help identify patients who need follow-up care are a few possible strategies.

Future nursing jobs will be greatly impacted by significant changes and new needs in the healthcare system and the practice environment. Nursing jobs and educational requirements may change as a result of the impending healthcare worker shortage caused by the rapidly aging population’s increased healthcare needs.

Keeping in mind that the United States is already experiencing medical staffing shortage, and a huge percentage of those offering the service are nearing retirement, there is an increasing demand for nursing professionals. With the right hands-on skills, you could secure employment in the growing workforce and advance your career to greater heights.

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