Among the developed countries, the United States is one of the countries that have the highest number of old people. This population is growing at a pace that is higher compared to the other nations in the world. This paper uses the phrase ‘old population’ to mean persons whose age is 65 years or more.
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The number of such persons was roughly 40 million a decade ago. However, this figure is expected to rise to hit 90 million in the course of 2050s, owing to the current situation where the rate of birth and death are low in the US. When this huge and young generation attains the age of 65 years and more, there will be a dramatic rise in the number of people in the need of extensive attention.
This phenomenon of an aging population is fast becoming a global trend, especially with the great improvement of healthcare systems around the globe. An aging population in the US is bound to have some negative effects on the country’s economy. For this reason, an analysis of the trend in the American aging population and its economic impact is paramount to have a sense of what is to be expected in the future in a bid to establish better planning policies. This paper intends to explore the issue of the ageing population and its implications on the US economy.
Economic Impact on the Healthcare System
Traditionally, people followed some set guidelines concerning what to eat, dress, say, and/or present before other people. Such norms had a significant impact of people’s health and moral standards. People could live and die because of their old age and not because of any complications.
However, in the contemporary times, individuals have shifted their lifestyles into eating and/or doing as they please. Such liberty has been associated with the rising health complications where people are dying because of diseases that are solely related to their eating habits or behavior. Hence, it is expected that there will be a drastic rise in the demand for medical services in the year in the near future. Most of the current resources will be stretched to the healthcare industry.
According to projections, the drastic increase in the demand for health care services will be accompanied by need for millions of medical professionals to handle the aging population. Such a rise in the ageing population will strain the healthcare system financially, thus making it unable to handle it (Hashimoto and Tabata 582). The government will be unable to hire more healthcare workers to take care of them on a long-standing basis.
Moreover, the available medical professionals will not have the required energy to handle the increased demand. In fact, many among them will be retiring and probably in need of the same kind of care that they had been offering. Others will be old and weak to the extent that they will be unable to perform effectively in relation to their younger counterparts in the same career.
The rise in the requirement for more healthcare professionals will hurt the economy since it will not be able to sustain the increased demand for the medical employees. The amount of the available resources for hiring of new healthcare workforce will also be limited, thus leading to an economic crisis. The government will be straining to sustain the ageing population.
High Costs of Training Medical Professionals
The expected demand for medical staff will be accompanied by increased costs of training health professionals to manage the anticipated old-age complications. A greater need will specifically be for health workers who can work on a long-term basis specializing with the elderly group (Jeannie 226).
Such workers are better placed to handle the ageing population whose health demands differ from those of ordinary patients. For instance, the ageing population is often susceptible to many of the chronic illnesses. Old people have a weaker immune system compared to their younger counterparts. As such, they tend to be immensely affected by many of the unceasing illnesses. The situation will call for more financial resources to be allocated to the preparation of more specialized healthcare practitioners to handle the elderly patients.
Such physicians understand the need to exercise a lot of patience when dealing with old people. They may need to take more time on their patients as some of these patients may show varied reactions to certain treatment, thus calling for a specialized approach to each patient (Jeannie 226).
This situation requires the availability of a large pool of such caregivers. In the case of the US, this demand will not be feasible since the economy will be unable to handle the upsurge in the numbers of unproductive, sick, and ageing population that will be unable to access proper healthcare. Importation of human personnel to handle the crisis will prove an expensive affair for the American economy, only serving to water down the economic milestones that have been achieved through sheer hard work.
Further, it is unfortunate that the number of medical students who are willing to take a course that deals with old-age complications is falling, thus putting the future of the care of the ageing population at risk (Jeannie 226). 3 percent of all students who are taking medical courses in the United States study geriatrics. There is bound to be a mismatch between the number of patients and the right number of healthcare personnel to attend to their needs.
For instance, the number of medical practitioners who are trained to handle the average patient may be far more than then recommended number for a given patient population while that of geriatrics professionals may be far too low. Such a scenario will present a strain on part of handling the elderly patients.
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The government will have to pay more to increase the pool. It might even be required to outsource workforce. All these strategies have an implication of the US economy. Besides, it will be a waste on part of the ordinary medical practitioners since they will be expensive to the economy since they will be paid for doing less work. This financial strain is bound to slow down the economy.
Deaths because of Compromised Quality of Healthcare and Reliance on Family Members
With the immense pressure on the healthcare system, the quality of care for the ageing population is bound to fall. Due to the advanced age of the patients in this case and the complexity of the care they require, the available caregivers will be forced to compromise the health of their patients in an attempt to serve as many patients as possible (Kortebein and Means 113).
Since people are the most valuable resources that any government can boast of, the compromised health situation will imply heightened number of dormant resources in the US. The situation also implies a reduced workforce in other sectors and hence an ultimate decline in the economic rank of the US.
The available caregivers, including untrained family members, will choose to serve each patient to some a certain extent after which they will move to the next patient who will be in greater need of their attention, time, and services. The result will be the worsening of the US population’s conditions, which will also lead to early death in some cases.
This situation will have some devastating effects on the family members who will have to slow down their economic activities as they grieve the loss of their old parents (Kortebein and Means 113). The slowed economy will affect the gross domestic product negatively.
Further, the use of family members into providing care for their old parents implies that they will be forced to sacrifice some part of their work time to provide care for their parents.
This situation will lower their productivity and their output levels. It will not be desirable given the fact that good performance of the economy is what can guarantee both the family members and their parents a better life. Moreover, due to the low skill level on part of the family members with respect to the kind of care that their parents need, they may turn out to be inefficient.
Unpreparedness on Part of the Elders
The rapid upsurge in the ageing population is in part due to unpreparedness on the ageing population (Eiichi 36). Old people lie in the category of dependants. The US economy will have to increase its share of financial resources that it sets for this class. Many of the old people have not taken up medical insurance that can guarantee them proper care in their old age.
Some of them are currently in legislative and other influential positions that can enable them influence policies in a direction that suits their general future needs. However, they do not seem to take any solid steps in the preparation for the effects of the upsurge in population.
Further, elders tend to visualize a scenario where their own children will take care of them in their old age. They tend to assume that their children will have the time and resources to handle them. For this reason, they worry less about the impact of the rapid increase in ageing population that they will have on their families and the economy (Eiichi 41).
They fail to understand that their care will negatively affect the economy by straining the available resources while making their children miss important economic activities that help in developing a better economy. Hence, understanding factors that have or are bound to increase the population of the old people in the US will be crucial so that the US government can prepare economically to handle the situation.
Why the Rising Old-age Population
The witnessed rising of the aged population can be traced back to the Second World War when people chose to shift their way of doing things that had been set by the society. They considered the issue of giving birth to many kids a traditional affair. In fact, in 1950s, a mature woman was expected to bear a minimum of four children, as opposed to the situation as from 2000 when a woman is expected to bear at most two kids.
Statistical findings confirm that the population of this class of people was already high and that the financial pressure that they had experienced was linkable to the already established traditional principles (Wiederhold, Riva, and Graffigna 411). The situation was further reinforced by technological advancements in field of medicine that allowed the treatment of certain illnesses that were initially problematic.
Development of vaccines also meant that the certain diseases could be managed. This situation has seen the lifespan of this age bracket rise beyond the initial average where many of the people in this category live to their old age. In the US, they currently represent roughly 30 percent of the total population. The existence of the baby boomer generation has contributed immensely to the problem of an extremely large aged population that strains caregivers within the health care system (Wiederhold, Riva, and Graffigna 411).
Many health caregivers will stop working in the coming years. This situation will certainly contribute to the challenge of handling a rapidly increasing ageing population (Tacchino 45). Even though such retirees may be able to take care of themselves to some extent, they will be economically insignificant since they will not be in a position to help in serving the large population of the elderly.
In addition, their withdrawal from active service represents some form of loss to the economy since their services remain dormant, despite the many elderly people who are in need of them. However, considering the US situation, retirement is below old age meaning that the retirees will still have some energy.
If their services will be put to use, they will reduce the magnitude of the problem of ageing, especially the economic effects. Their contribution will avert a situation where the government has to outsource services that they offer. However, their impact will be insignificant since they will participate for a short while and then run short of energy because of their age. Hence, their withdrawal from work will have significant economic implications (Tacchino 46).
The natural life has increased significantly over the years since 1950. This observation means that more people are living longer. The situation contributes immensely to the issue of a rapid rise in the size of the ageing population (Tacchino 45).
The increase in the life span has followed a combination of factors that include, but are not limited to, medical breakthroughs, reduced cases of war, institution of workplace policies that promote safer working conditions, and the leading of healthier lives through physical exercise and eating a balanced diet.
With an increased life span, many countries are forced to grapple with large populations of the elderly who depend highly on taxpayers and other entities for their survival. Their unproductive nature puts a heavy burden on other taxpayers. The overall effect is the reduction of the income per person in the affected countries. In fact, using the 2009 census results, the US has 39.6 million elderly people. This high number has limited the country’s ability to compete with other economic powerhouses internationally.
Lack of proper training for students in medical courses contributes to the problems of an ageing population. Due to the complexity of the medical complications that are associated with the ageing populace, it is paramount for the US government to invest in healthcare givers by providing adequate geriatric training for them to be in a better position to handle the elderly in the society.
The witnessed inefficient levels of training have left a good number medical school graduate with low assurance levels with respect to their abilities to take care of the aged populace.
It is a waste of valuable resources to train such persons only for them to perform their duties inefficiently. This finding also shows some incompetence on part of the educational system in terms of imparting the right skills to students to enable them perform their duties diligently, especially when it comes to issues relating to the care of their elderly people in the society.
The lack of self-assurance on part of the medical students brings about greater anxiety on the effect that the rapid rising size of the ageing population is bound to have on the economy. It adds to the unpreparedness that puts the future of various economies in the world at risk of collapse due to an extremely large and overly unexpected population of dependants.
The evident lackadaisical attitude among medical students to take up geriatrics courses is attributed to their small salaries. Despite policies that have been designed to handle the issue of salaries, less efforts have been put to address health professionals’ pay issues. It seems like the importance of the geriatrics physicians to the health care industry and the US economy at large has been underestimated (Kortebein and Means 167).
Lack of incentives on part of students to take up courses relating to long-term care is well manifested in the decline in the number of new enrolments by students in such courses. The result of low enrolments in geriatrics courses will definitely serve to cripple government’s efforts to handle the upsurge in the elderly population.
It is quite demeaning for a geriatric physician to receive a salary that is lower than what is received by health trainees who join the medical field to gain practical skills to complement the knowledge that they have acquired in class. It is quite unacceptable to have such a pay disparity between a medical professional and a health trainee.
Failure on part of the healthcare industry to prepare efficiently for an increase in the size of the ageing population has been influenced largely by ignorance on the part of players in the healthcare industry concerning the need for greater investment in care giving that satisfactorily handles health issues that elderly face (Kortebein and Means 162).
For this reason, it is paramount for the US government to understand how diseases vary in terms of complication for the elderly in comparison with the average patient so that it can allocate the necessary financial resources that will help in managing health issues of the aging populace.
America’s healthcare system bases its care on persistent and long-term care. The acute care entails the treatment of diseases that last for a short time. The main types of illnesses that lie in the category of acute care revolve around short-term injury, possible rehabilitation following an injury, and short-term illnesses. Examples of such care may include treatment for a wrench, common cold, and appendicitis among others (Kortebein and Means 160).
It may also include recovery by mothers from the delivery of their babies. On the other hand, chronic care encompasses monitoring and treatment of diseases or disorders that are ongoing in nature on a long-term basis. Worse, such conditions are associated with the aged population.
Examples of these cases may include cerebral palsy, high blood pressure, sickle cell anemia, heart disease, rheumatic arthritis, and Alzheimer disease. The family physician or primary caregiver usually spearheads the management of chronic care (Kortebein and Means 173). Even though no definite cure is usually available chronic conditions, the care managers’ objective is to stop the disease or slow down its progress to optimize the health of the patient.
Long-term care involves an extension to the medical and social services that patients with chronic illnesses require to enable them lead an independent life as much as possible amid the various challenges that they face. The ageing population requires such a care. However, the US government has to dig deep into its financial basket to reach the better part of the significantly high population of the aged.
A good comprehension of this fact by the government and other stakeholders such as medical practitioners is crucial in availing proper health care to the elderly population (Kortebein and Means 165). The health industry needs to realize how the need for both acute and chronic care varies for it to be in a better position to handle the ageing population.
With the rapid increase in the elderly population, the requirement for acute health care is fast decreasing as the aged population’s need for chronic long-term care increases. If not well checked, the effect of this situation will be a mismatch in the focus between the availability of services and the requirements by the population that is in need of health care (Overcash 142). With the high number of elderly persons, the demand for chronic long-term care will be high while the health care system’s ability to handle them will be limited, owing to the depletion of healthcare funds from the US government.
On the other hand, the demand for acute health care will have fallen significantly with the capacity of the health system to handle health matters remaining high. In turn, this situation will represent a loss to the economy in terms of the idle capacity in acute care and a strain on the part of resources that will be available for chronic long-term care. Such a scenario serves to emphasize the crucial need for the US government to be keen on the trends in the demand for the two categories of health care services.
Demand for Chronic Disability or Disease Care in the US
Figures relating to the need for chronic care show a worrying trend given the preparedness of the health system to handle the patients with chronic illnesses. A long-term care survey conducted nationally in 1999 showed that there were about 7 million American citizens with chronic diseases or disability.
The above findings show a positive correlation between age and chronic diseases. Therefore, the US has to use these results to determine the amount of resources and strategies that it has to set aside for the aging population. One million aged Americans out of the seven million are in dire need of assistance in carrying out their routine activities. Such figures show a high level of dependency in the American economy.
This situation has serious implications based on the unproductive nature of the aged people who have to be supported. Failure by the health system to recognize the impact of the increased dependency and needs of the elderly on the demand for health care services threatens to magnify the effects of the ageing population on the health care system and other stakeholders in the economy. Such stakeholders include taxpayers who will be forced to spend time and resources more in maintaining the ageing population (Overcash 139).
Strategies to adopt to handle the Ageing Population
Despite the worsening health situation of the aged population, the US government has a room to adopt various strategies whose implementation will end up saving its declining economy.
The ageing population is bound to bring with it certain big problems. Averting such problems is the best approach as opposed to waiting for them to occur before attempting to solve them (Madison and Bockanic 58). This section presents the key plan that the US needs to implement to avert a full-blown crisis that may accompany an unprecedented sharp increase in the ageing population.
Serious improvement is needed in the healthcare system to enable it be better prepared for a rapid upsurge in the population of the elderly. The US government needs to avail funds to help in improving the available facilities to handle the increase in the elderly population that has been influenced mainly by the baby boomer generation (Madison and Bockanic 58). This plan will help in reducing pressure on the available healthcare facilities.
Handling patients on a long-term basis requires greater use of hospital facilities for a long time, a factor that may disadvantage other patients who have acute illnesses that require short-lived contact with the health service providers.
There is also a need for the recruitment of geriatric staff that has the appropriate skills that are necessary in handling medical complications that are associated with the ageing population. This strategy will reduce pressure on the available geriatric physicians, thus enabling them to deliver quality services to their patients (Jill et al. 228).
Due to the shortage in the number of local geriatric physicians, some countries have resorted to hiring them from other countries to meet the local demands of the ageing population on the healthcare system. This trend is fast catching up in various countries such as Germany (Eiichi 34).
The US may also need to employ the same strategy if local solutions turn out to be inefficient in handling the rapid increase in the size of the ageing population. Even though this strategy may be expensive, it is better compared to a case of shortage in staff members due to the value of human life that cannot be determined in monetary terms (Overcash 144).
The importation of such workers by Germany and its counterparts has helped in filling a crucial gap in the healthcare system, thus enabling the countries to meet the needs of their ageing population. Low numbers of geriatric specialists in the United States contributes immensely to the predicament that threatens the capacity of America’s healthcare system to handle the rapid increase in the number of elderly people.
A big portion of medical graduates lacks the confidence to handle the elderly patients (Madison and Bockanic 56). The situation can be reversed if more of them are encouraged to specialize in geriatrics. Besides, for health care workers to be certified, they need to have the ability to perform some of the basic geriatric care (Madison and Bockanic 57).
The US needs to invest heavily in training more medical professionals to revert the issue of inadequate personnel who can handle old-age-related complications. Standards of care that relate to the handling of elderly patients are bound to increase if more students are encouraged to become geriatric specialists (Overcash 142). With specialized practitioners who are available to handle the increased number of elderly patients, a crisis that is imminent in the healthcare system can be averted.
Clearly, the rapid rise in the ageing population presents an immense challenge to America’s healthcare system. It has serious implications on its economy. The rapid increase has been occasioned by the aftermaths of the Second World War when then US high population utilized the technology to boost then worse state of health facilities. Improved health care reduced the levels of deaths and births. Initially, the US healthcare system handled a smaller number of elderly patients.
However, the current rate of increase in the elderly patient numbers has presented a huge economic challenge. Issues surrounding geriatric specialists such as low salaries and low interest in the specialty have served to worsen the problem by contributing to human resource shortage.
Some countries have resorted to importation of labor to cover up the shortfall in personnel to handle the elderly patients. Encouraging more students to specialize in geriatrics and improving the available facilities in the US healthcare system can also help in improving the status quo and hence stand a better chance to handle the rapidly increasing elderly population.
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