State of Senior Healthcare in the U.S.
By 2060, there will be 95 million Americans aged 65 and older, comprising 23% of the population. As the senior population grows, so will its health challenges, which will fuel the demand for more healthcare workers.
American Seniors’ Demographics and Psychographics, 2019
In 2019, the states with the highest percentages of people aged 65 and older included Maine (21%), Florida (21%), West Virginia (20%), and Vermont (20%). American seniors’ median income was $27,398, though a large income gap existed between men ($36,921) and women ($21,815). The median household income was $36,200.
Life expectancy has significantly improved over the past few decades, with seniors aged 65 expected to live an additional 19.6 years as of 2019. Women were likely to live an additional 20.8 years, compared with 18.2 years for men.
About three-quarters (76%) of the senior population was white, followed by Hispanic (9%), African American (9%), Asian American (5%), American Indian and Alaska Native (0.6%), Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (0.1%), and two or more races (0.8%). However, senior racial and ethnic minority populations are projected to reach 27.7 million in 2040, compared with 12.9 million in 2019. While the white population over 65 will grow by 29% between 2019 and 2040, senior racial and ethnic minority populations will grow by 115%, including the Hispanic (161%), Asian American (102%), African American (80%), and American Indian and Alaska Native (67%) populations.
Seniors face numerous health challenges. For example, drug-related deaths among seniors increased by 39% between 2014/16 and 2017/19, while suicide increased by 3% during the same period. Frequent mental distress among seniors increased by 11% between 2016 and 2019.
Seniors’ physical health is also lackluster. In 2019, only 23.1% of seniors met the federal physical activity guidelines and 31% of seniors in fair or better health were physically inactive.
Between 2015 and 2018, 41.9% of men and 45.9% of women aged 65-74 were obese. During the same period, 66.7% of men and 74.3% of women aged 65-74 were living with hypertension.
The share of seniors requiring nursing home care could increase from 1.2 million in 2017 to 1.9 million in 2030. Social Security and Medicare expenditures could also increase between 2019 and 2050, from 8.7% to 11.8% of gross domestic product.
Common Chronic Illnesses Among Seniors
Eighty percent of adults aged 65 and older are living with chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Seniors need to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of common diseases and take preventive measures.
Thirty-one percent of seniors are living with arthritis. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and decreased range of motion. Certain risk factors, such as obesity, joint injuries, smoking, and frequent knee bending and squatting, as well as characteristics such as being older and female, increase the likelihood of developing arthritis.
Twenty-nine percent of seniors have heart disease and experience symptoms that may include shortness of breath, chest pain, upper body pain, nausea, light-headedness, and cold sweats. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption.
An estimated 70% of cancer deaths are in seniors, and 60% of new cancer diagnoses are in seniors. Risk factors include alcohol consumption, chronic inflammation, poor diet, immunosuppression, obesity, infectious agents, and tobacco. Symptoms vary greatly and include nausea, fatigue, fever, headaches, seizures, swelling, and vision and hearing changes.
Some 11% of seniors have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulty completing familiar tasks, frequently confuse time or place, experience memory loss of recently learned information, have decreased or poor judgment, and often withdraw from work or social activities. Risk factors include age, family history, genetics, head injuries, heart disease, and diabetes.
Twenty-seven percent of seniors have diabetes and experience blurred vision, unexplained weight loss, irritability, increased thirst, extreme hunger, frequent urination, fatigue, frequent infections, and slow-healing sores.
Tips for Preventing Chronic Conditions
Although not all risk factors are preventable, seniors can take simple steps to stay as healthy as possible.
6 Health Tips for Seniors
To maintain good health, seniors should eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and avoid high-fat, sugary, and processed foods. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day and quitting smoking are two other important keys to good health.
Seniors should visit the doctor for regular checkups and take preventive measures, such as screening for cancer. Knowing their family health histories and staying educated on the differences between normal aging and dementia could also help seniors reduce their risk of developing a chronic condition.
Career Spotlight: Geriatric Nurse Practitioner
Due to the demand for healthcare services from the aging population, geriatric nurse practitioners are expected to see strong growth over the next decade. Professionals in this healthcare role provide general medical care for older patients in a primary or specialty care setting.
A geriatric nurse practitioner’s job responsibilities may include tracking and recording patients’ symptoms and medical histories, conducting physical exams and providing diagnoses, performing and requesting diagnostic tests, and analyzing test results. These health practitioners also operate and monitor medical equipment, give patients medicine and treatment, consult with other healthcare professionals, and educate patients and their families on staying healthy and managing an illness or injury.
The position requires a master’s degree and has a median annual pay of $117,670.
Moving Toward a Healthier Future
Seniors, family members, and health professionals all play a key role in helping prevent and manage chronic illness in older adults. As the population ages, the need for healthcare resources and professionals who specialize in addressing the demands and challenges of geriatric care will continue to grow.
Alzheimer’s Association, Causes and Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Association, 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Cancer and Aging Research Group, Advocacy
Cancer.gov, Risk Factors for Cancer
Cancer.gov, Symptoms of Cancer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heart Disease Facts
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Older Persons’ Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Risk Factors
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Tips for Healthy Aging
Mayo Clinic, Arthritis
Mayo Clinic, Diabetes
Population Reference Bureau, Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Census Bureau, Older Americans Month: May 2021