The Rising Health Care Needs of Aging Baby Boomers

By Emily Sanderson
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Baby boomers, a large generation born in the 25 years following World War II, make up about 78 million Americans. As the oldest of them hits retirement age now, many have additional medical needs. As a result, demand for employees in medical careers will continue to increase over the next decade and beyond.

The elderly need more health care resources than others. People aged 65 and older presently make up 12 percent of the population, but they account for the following percentages in health care services:

  • 26 percent of physician office visits
  • 35 percent of hospital stays
  • 34 percent of prescriptions
  • 38 percent of emergency medical responses
  • 90 percent of nursing home use

In addition to a large generation getting more elderly, the life expectancy rate of Americans is higher than ever before. In 2010, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is 40.2 million, and that number will more than double by 2050. When that happens their percentage of the population will increase, and so will their medical needs.

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About 60 percent of baby boomers have been diagnosed with at least one chronic medical condition. Some common chronic conditions are arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. These conditions require regular health care check-ups, taking prescription medications and making significant dietary changes. As a result, elderly patients will require more assistance from individuals in medical careers – those behind-the-scenes such as medical laboratory technicians and medical billing clerks, as well as professionals who patients work with directly such as physical therapists and dietitians.

In addition to traditional medical jobs, demand for individuals in alternative medical careers or holistic medicine is also expected to increase. Elderly patients who experience chronic pain due to arthritis or other conditions are seeing chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists, who identify sources of pain and reduce it by improving blood circulation, working out tension in the muscles and improving posture.

If you are considering which profession to pursue in your career, medical careers are an excellent choice if you seek job stability and enjoy helping people. And in your schooling, we recommend completing additional geriatric coursework and certification, as there is presently a shortage in medical professionals trained in geriatrics, or internal medicine for the elderly, despite anticipated demand.

The body of an elderly patient is very different than that of an adult. Physiologically, organs in an elderly patient don't "bounce back" as quickly from illnesses such as gastroenteritis, which can cause dehydration. And brittle bones break more easily in slips and falls. A simple bladder infection can cause symptoms similar to senility or dementia, and without proper diagnosis, elderly patients can go untreated. Individuals in medical careers need to be aware of geriatric factors that can make a significant difference in diagnosis.

Hospitals, clinics, care centers and insurance providers are working now to plan for the expected increase in medical services in response to the aging baby boomers, and there is a demand for individuals in medical careers who are prepared for assisting the elderly.

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Sources for this article include reports by the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. Census, the Commonwealth Fund and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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