Aging boomers face elder care crisis as family caregivers dwindle

Updated on July 9, 2024
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Could technology provide answers? 

Given the growing health needs of aging Baby Boomers, there is a growing concern for how this population will be cared for. Emerging technologies may provide some support.

Traditionally, elderly care was primarily a family responsibility. Multi-generational households were common and elderly parents often lived with their adult children; care was provided by the elderly’s children or grandchildren. However, due to societal, economic and cultural changes, there has been a shift in the number of people living in a household and those available to care for aging family members. 

According to the U.S Census Bureau, the average number of people per household has slumped to 2.51 in 2024, down from 3.33 in 1960. This change in household size points to the reduction of multi-generational households in the U.S. Meanwhile, the age category of those 65 and older is expected to grow by 25% by 2050, outpacing the rest of the population which consists of a growth rate of 7%. This has created an unprecedented shift in care for the U.S. aging population. 

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Who will provide care?

If options are dwindling for families or human labor to provide care to the elderly, what’s the alternative? Recent advances in technology may provide some answers to help reduce the burden on families and medical professionals. For instance,  the use of specifically programmed care robots with automated “human touch” could be an important resource for elder care. 

Over the past decades, studies have explored the benefits of human touch when providing care to the geriatric population. According to the research, the human touch helps build trust and can make a patient feel valued and understood, as well as provide empathy and reassurance. In addition to the emotional well-being value, research also suggests that touch can improve overall health status, especially for those who may be institutionalized, cognitively impaired, or hospitalized, providing support for better immune functioning as well. 

Presently, research is being conducted on whether or not the benefits of human touch can be recreated by the social interaction and touch of a robot. In some instances, research suggests that robots could provide a positive emotional response by its touch. Further development could allow care robots to interpret and express emotions and internal state with facial expressions. Other behavioral responses and models are in development to program robots with the ability to observe a human’s emotional state and produce a cognitive response to empathize with humans. 

The takeaway

Given the historical advancements in technology and the strong need to address the health care needs of an aging population, it may no longer be a question of if robots will replace the human interaction but perhaps when. 

AI-driven systems could play a crucial role in filling the gap and ensuring adequate care for all. The industry will need to address the practical implementation for the integration of robotic systems into existing health care infrastructures and determine the correct balance of required oversight from health care professionals. It is unclear if patients will accept and be comfortable with robotic caregivers’ interactions. As technology advances, so does the increase in data and privacy security. There are also ethical considerations in designing a moral framework to guide the actions of robots and technology within complex health care scenarios. Other questions remain ranging from the practical uses of this emerging technology to the need for accessibility and equity as well as ethics and governance guiding these efforts. The journey towards fully integrating this technology is far from complete. 

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Danny Schmidt
Health Care Senior Analyst, Senior Manager at RSM US LLP

Danny Schmidt is a senior manager in the assurance practice and a health care senior analyst for RSM US LLP. As a member of the Industry Eminence program, Danny works alongside the firm’s chief economist and his fellow senior analysts to understand, forecast and communicate economic, business and technology trends affecting middle market businesses.

Rebekuh Eley
Rebekuh Eley
Health Care Senior Analyst at RSM US LLP

Rebekuh Eley is a health care senior analyst with RSM US LLP.