ELDER CARE: Is State Prepared to Handle Aging Population?
A three-part feature in today's Sacramento Bee details the complexities and nuances of the problems that California's aging population poses and will continue to pose into the next century. In part one, the Bee notes that in 20 years, there will be 6.3 million retirees in the state -- 2.6 million more than today -- and the number of people over age 85 is expected to grow by 85%. And with statistics showing that "six of every 10 people over 65 need nursing home care at some point in their lives," and with the average cost for a year of nursing home care in California at about $45,000, paying for that care "will be a challenge for the baby boomers, their families and federal and state governments," according to a General Accounting Office report issued last year. "There is going to be a shortage of (nursing home beds) and under current reimbursement models I can't see the market being able to respond," said Gary Macomber, executive vice president of the California Association of Health Facilities. And Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, said, "I believe we're going to have to figure out better ways for people to stay in their homes, because that's where 80% of them are going to be" (Capps, 6/28).
Medical Field May Have to Adapt
In part two of the series, the Bee reports that as the baby boomers retire, the medical profession will have to update its training to serve their needs. Marty Lynch, director of the Over 60 Health Center in Berkeley, said, "It will be a different world for physicians and patients. The baby boomer generation is a much more sophisticated, active and educated consuming public, used to getting responses. So the pressure will be there to create ways to deliver the services they need." Dr. Seth Landefeld, director of the University of California-San Diego/Mount Zion Center on Aging, added, "The medical profession is just beginning to wake up to these issues in terms of looking at the training needs of the future. We're not quite a day late and a dollar short, but we're close to it." One solution may be for medical professionals to coordinate care with social workers "to address difficulties patients may have with daily living -- cooking meals, bathing, managing medications and money." Experts also look to an increased attention to treating Alzheimer's disease. Dr. William Jagust, chair of the neurology department at UC Davis Medical Center, said, "Unless there is a medical cure or therapy to substantially intervene, the future will see a proportional increase in Alzheimer's because it's tightly linked to aging." But, he said, not all of the new millennium's challenges must be borne by patients. He said, "Much of the cost of caring for patients is borne by families, not health insurance or the government. As more and more families are under stress, I suspect there will be a public movement to help with the burden" (Perkins, 6/28).
The Business of Aging
Part three of the series focuses on the attention the market is beginning to give the needs of the elderly, particularly with respect to the proliferation of assisted living facilities. Macomber said, "One of the good things about assisted living right now is it doesn't have this horribly complex paperwork compliance system nursing homes have. You can dedicate your staff to patient care. .. We don't want to see assisted living go down the same path the federal government has (dictated) for nursing homes" (Vellinga, 6/28).