The population of aging Americans has been on the rise consistently over the past several decades. Improved healthcare, increasing levels of income, and other human development index (HDI) factors have improved life expectancy in most developed economies such as the United States. In a study by Poo (2015), the increasing population of elderly people in the United States is an indication that more focus needs to be placed on their wellness. Seniors, especially those who are over 75 years of age, need close attention from family members and medical practitioners. Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) are critical in the care of these individuals, especially those who are already in homes for the elderly. Rubin (2015) argues that the best way to improve the health of the elderly is to ensure that they remain physically active. In this study, the researcher will use quantitative research methods to analyze population trends in the United States and the impact of an aging population on American society.
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The United States of America has one of the highest life expectancies in the world for both men and women. The improved healthcare sector and the high living standards are some of the factors that have led to an improved life expectancy in the country. Emerging technologies in the field of medicine have also helped with eradicating or managing some of the dangerous diseases that claimed many lives in the past. It is important to look at American population trends and the principal consequences they have on society, especially in the health sector.
Rate of Increase of the Elderly Population in America
According to a report by Samuel (2017), the number of the elderly in the United States has been on the rise since the country gained independence. There was a sharp increase in the country’s general population after the Second World War. Although the country participated in the war and emerged as one of the two world superpowers, the battlefields were in Europe. This means that the economy of the country was not adversely affected by the war. The economic boom after the war made the United States the most highly desired destination for economic immigrants from Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and Africa. Soon after the war, many people immigrated to the United States because of socio-political reasons. The country is still the most sought-after destination for migrants from all over the world. According to Moody and Sasser (2015), most of those who move to the United States, especially from developing countries, rarely go back to their country of birth. This means that they end up aging in the United States. Figure 1 below shows the changing population of the elderly from 1900 to 2018. It also shows a projected trend that will be witnessed from 2019 to 2060.
As shown in the figure above, the population of the elderly in the United States almost tripled (from 3.1 million to 9 million) between 1900 and 1940. From 1940 to the year 2000, it rose from 9 million to 35 million, which is almost a 300% increase. The statistics show that the population of the elderly will be about twice its current number. It is important to analyze the demographic factors of the elderly population in the country. Figure 2 below shows the population of elderly people based on their marital status.
The statistics above show that married couples are the majority among the elderly population. 70% of women who are over 65 years are in a marriage, and so are 45% of men in that age bracket. The widowed form another significant population, followed by the divorced, the separated, or those with absent spouses. Those who have never been married form the smallest fraction of seniors above 65 years in age. According to Wong (2014), the earnings of a family also determine people’s longevity. Members of well off families are likely to have longer lives than those from impoverished families. Figure 3 below shows the classification based on family income.
The statistics in the figure above show that poverty is inversely proportional to life span. The rich in American society tend to live longer than the poor. The cost of healthcare services remains high despite the effort put in place by the current and previous administrations to make them more affordable. The rich can afford expensive heath insurance coverage that enables them to visit hospitals regularly for check-ups. It makes it easy to detect diseases early enough so that they can be managed in the country’s top hospitals. On the other hand, the poor lack the privilege of receiving the best healthcare services the country has to offer. Their limited financial capacity forces them to visit hospitals only when it is necessary. This means that in most of the cases, the diseases that affect them are diagnosed at very late stages, making the treatment process complex and costly. A significant number of them do not survive after such late diagnosis. That is why they form the smallest percentage of the elderly.
Impact of the Aging Population
The increasing population of aging citizens has had a significant impact on the socio-economic environment in the United States. According to Wong (2014), not all of the aging people in the country have families who can support them during the late stages of their lives. As such, some of them are forced to go to homes for the elderly where they can get the support they need. Others opt to look for gainful employment as a way of remaining physically active and meeting their socio-economic needs. The figure below shows a declining rate of unemployment among adults aged over 65 years.
It is clear from the above statistics that more senior Americans are considering formal employment as an option even after they retire. There was a sharp decrease in the rate of unemployment among Americans aged over 65 years. Although some of these adults cite the need to remain physically active as one of the reasons why they prefer working even after their formal retirement, Rubin (2015) observes that many do so as a way of gaining economic freedom. Improved medical services allow them to be physically active and as such, they prefer continuing to work to meet their basic expenses. The social benefit of remaining at work is another major determinant of why these seniors prefer regular employment. Unlike staying at home, where they are left in solitude when their children are at work, going to work allows them to interact with other people. They end up remaining physically and mentally strong.
How to Manage the Changes
It is evident that that the number of aging Americans is increasing consistently because of various socio-economic and technological factors. Other than the socio-economic factors discussed above, the increasing elderly population will have significant implications for the healthcare sector. These individuals are more likely to fall sick that younger people. According to Wong (2014), it is important to find a way of managing the change in a way that will be beneficial to the elderly. The following are some of the factors that should be considered:
Promote physical exercise among the elderly
According to Moody and Sasser (2015), one of the main issues that often lead to poor health among the elderly is limited physical exercise. Most of the elderly spend most of their time indoors watching television or reading newspapers if they do not have gainful employment. Many do not travel a lot (Poo, 2015). Reduced physical activity speeds up the aging process. It makes them prone to numerous opportunistic diseases. Those who are obese may face more serious challenges if they remain inactive. Samuel (2017) advises that they should always find ways of remaining active. Having a regular walk and visiting the gym are some of the best options for staying physically fit. One hour at the gym three or four times a week and a daily stroll, either in the morning or evening, have numerous health benefits. These senior citizens will remain healthy and the need to provide them with constant medical services will be reduced. This strategy helps in reducing the demand for healthcare services in the country. Doctors, nurses, and clinicians will have more time to attend to other urgent needs within their workplaces.
Improve facilities in the nursing homes
Some of the senior citizens who are over 80 years old may not find it possible to continue going to work. Some of them may have physical complications that limit their ability to engage in physical exercise regularly or vigorously. In such cases, they may need the close attention of nurses to help in improving their wellness at this delicate stage of life. It may be necessary to equip nursing homes with state-of-the-art facilities that will improve their experience while in the hospital. The facilities should help in early detection and management of health problems that these clients may have. The facilities should also help them maintain some form of physical activity even when they feel weak. It is also important to protect them from injuries that may be caused by a fall or dangerous objects within the facility. Whenever necessary, these individuals should be enabled to communicate easily with nurses and other stakeholders as a way of improving their experience.
Increase the number of PTAs in nursing homes
Physical therapy assistants play a critical role in nursing homes and in other areas where they have to care for the elderly. Rubin (2015) laments that some Americans abandond their aging parents in nursing homes and do not bother to visit them regularly to ensure that they remain comfortable. The role of caring for them falls on the shoulders of the nurses. They have to ensure that the attention that they give to these patients is as personal as possible. Samuel (2017) states that nurses should strive to create a personal relationship with their clients. Their unique needs, likes and dislikes, and any other relevant issue that may improve their experience when they are in the nursing home should be understood.
Some of them may be terminally ill and need constant assistance with almost everything. The demand for the attention of the nurses can become even greater when handling patients who have been abandoned or those who do not have family members who visit them regularly. It is sometimes necessary to increase the number of PTAs in the nursing home to ensure that they can give personalized quality care to the patients. According to Poo (2015), a nurse to patient ratio of 1:5 is recommended. A nurse who handles more than 5 patients in a day may not deliver quality care. Nursing homes should be adequately staffed to ensure that these individuals are offered the best services available. With the right facilities and adequate staff, the senior citizens in nursing home will feel comfortable away from their homes.
The population of elderly citizens is consistently rising in the United States. Factors such as improved healthcare services, improved standards of living, awareness about avoidance or management of major diseases, and advanced technologies have contributed to a life expectancy that is longer than it was in the past. The study shows that the growing number of senior citizens may exert pressure on healthcare facilities. Promoting healthy lifestyles such as regular exercise and good diet may reduce the need for them to visit hospitals regularly. The study also suggests that nursing homes for the elderly should be properly equipped and staffed to meet the demand.
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Department of Health & Human Services. (2016). A profile of older Americans: 2016. Web.
Moody, H., & Sasser, J. (2015). Aging: Concepts and controversies. New York, NY: Sage Publications.
Poo, A. (2015). The age of dignity: Preparing for the elder boom in a changing America. New York, NY: The New Press.
Rubin, L. (2015). 60 on up: The truth about aging in America. New York, NY: Beacon Press.
Samuel, R. (2017). Aging in America: A cultural history. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press.
Wong, D. (2014). Counseling individuals through the lifespan. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.