Baby Boomers to Offer Healthcare System the Greatest Challenge Since COVID-19

Updated on June 6, 2023
Group of smiling senior friends spending time together sitting in the park

The COVID-19 pandemic had a serious impact on American businesses of every size across every industry, but no more significant than on the healthcare system. Changes brought about by the pandemic, along with aging baby boomers, have forced those of us in the senior care industry to look to new strategies and technologies to meet the needs and expectations of this critical group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, baby boomers — born between 1946 and 1964 — were the largest living population until 2019. They were the second-largest population group in 2022, comprised of 69.6 million people ages 58 to 76.

Throughout the pandemic, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) worked to maintain residents’ health by using new technologies, like sensors embedded in mattresses to monitor heart and respiration rates, digital medication dispensers, and remote care options. Smart security and lighting systems also enabled caregivers to keep track of residents’ activities and intervene when necessary. A recent study by the AARP found that more than four in ten seniors have a more positive feeling about using transformative technology to connect than they did before COVID-19. Many already use video chat from their smartphones, computers, or tablets. Others are dabbling in social media and virtual activities like online exercise classes. Older Americans now shop on the internet, use it for entertainment, and to keep up with friends and family.

Baby boomers are just as likely as younger and older respondents to use smartphones and podcasts as healthcare resources. In fact, because boomers are working longer, they are exposed to new technologies in the workplace, making them more likely to adopt nearer healthcare innovations. Controlling the rising cost of these new technologies will be a consideration for all of us in the long-term care industry.

In a Q&A with Kelsey Mellard, founder of Sitka, a telehealth platform that connects primary care providers to specialists, she says: “The aging population — even if they’re aging relatively healthily — still start to utilize our system more and more as a direct correlation to age, which is going to continue to drive the need for more care models to be delivered at various sites of care. So we now see more home-based models, more models going into people’s assisted living, and independent living facilities.”

Mellard noted that the rural nature of the U.S. compels clinicians to use technology to help patients access the right care knowledge at the right time. This means more adoption of digital tools even among an older demographic. She added, “Historically, there’s this big story that seniors don’t use tech. And I think the pandemic kind of largely proved that’s not accurate. Our aging population, even those who are relatively healthy, is actually very capable of using technology, which is great.” Mellard also pointed out that the aging population must utilize home-based care models and assisted living and independent living facilities. 

A study of aging and U.S. population trends conducted by PRB, which promotes and supports policies and practices to improve people’s health worldwide, found that aging baby boomers could fuel a 75 percent increase in the need for long-term care facilities. The study predicts that 2.3 million Americans ages 65 years and older will require nursing facility care by 2030.

Results from a study posted on the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) website show that despite a keen interest in maintaining good health as they age, approximately 60 percent of baby boomers have already experienced at least one chronic medical condition, including arthritis, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and osteoporosis. These conditions require regular checkups, prescription medications, and often, significant dietary changes. The healthcare industry must be prepared to accommodate an aging population by offering extensive health services to seniors. This can only be accomplished by training clinicians, especially those who work in SNFs or other senior living facilities, on the latest technology.

Technology like digital glucose meters makes it simple and easy to manage diabetes through real-time health data and tracking, helping seniors avoid serious health problems and expensive treatment. Motion sensing technology, wearables, and state-of-the-art hearing aids can detect when care facility residents are at risk for falls, which are the leading cause of injury and death in the U.S. Annually, falls send three million seniors to the emergency room. By using technology to detect the problem, caregivers and families can help aging patients avoid serious injury and even surgery.

Some suggestions for how senior-living communities can prepare for the influx of baby boomers include:

  • SNFs and elder-care facilities need to create a baseline for services to keep tabs on services, ensuring that residents receive consistent, high-quality care and services. 
  • Embrace innovation and continue to incorporate new technology practices into care, helping to streamline services. Allowing caregivers to focus on the resident rather than on administration and systems will improve occupancy efficiency.
  • Emphasize collaboration with other similar care communities. Collaborating with partners allows successful practices to be shared, helping facilities to expand to better serve older adults today and tomorrow.
  • Ensure stability and uniformity in care delivery processes. Senior care leaders must be prepared for the increasing levels of healthcare needs within the assisted living sector and have programs in place that focus on overall wellness, health management, and preventive care to support their residents, especially during the initial transition to a new living situation.

As industry leaders, it is our responsibility to pivot to make smarter, more efficient tech a priority by communicating the purpose of this effort to our teams and leading those teams by communicating a clear vision and purpose across every level of our facilities.

Melissa Powell
Melissa Powell
COO at Genesis HealthCare

Melissa Powell is COO of Genesis HealthCare, a network of 250 facilities across 22 states.