Hospitals, ‘boomers’ brace for the futureThe number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to double by the year 2030, thanks to the more than 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
By: By Dave Olson, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
The number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to double by the year 2030, thanks to the more than 70 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
Some boomers are taking steps now to deflate what some worry could be a geriatric tsunami heading for the nation’s health care system.
Susan Peterson, 60, and Sandy Christianson, 47, were born in years that neatly bookend the “boomer” generation.
Both are regulars at the Lifelong Fitness gym at Sanford’s Southpointe location in Fargo.
Peterson began exercising in earnest about four years ago, when a bone density test showed weak areas.
She was also a new grandma and figured staying fit would allow her to keep up with her grandson.
After two years, testing showed her bones were improving. When she tested in January, the results showed her bones were back to normal.
“The only thing that changed was the fact of the exercise. It obviously worked for me,” said Peterson, who visits the gym five times a week.
Christianson said she hits the gym as a way to forestall disease and because it makes her feel good.
After trying every workout regimen in the book, she found group fitness sessions to be the most satisfying.
“I’m inspired from the people in the class. I look forward to it when I get up in the morning,” Christianson said.
“Part of wellness is the social aspect,” she said.
Prevention still key
Dr. Darin Lang, a physician with Sanford Health, said he and his colleagues “definitely” have conversations about baby boomers moving into the geriatric population.
The aim, he said, is to head off problems before they become major issues, largely by helping patients make positive life changes based on things like exercise and diet.
“Our main goal is still prevention,” he said, adding that involves patients working with a primary-care physician as well as a care team to identify and lower a patient’s risk for things like heart disease, or colon, lung, breast or prostate cancer.
Lang said it’s important for doctors and other members of a care team to be alert for symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which may hurt someone’s overall well-being.
Under the care team model, a chronic disease management registered nurse works with a physician during appointments, but is also available between appointments to talk to people about how they are doing with medications and lifestyle changes.
The model was first used with diabetic patients, but Lang said it is being expanded to include patients who have issues associated with aging.
Keeping docs longer
Dr. Walter Johnson, a physician with Innovis Health, said primary-care doctors will be critical in helping manage the health needs of seniors.
Problem is, he said, there is a shortage of primary-care doctors, and retirements will only make the situation more acute in coming years, with nearly 40 percent of doctors today 55 or older.
“I think you’ll see a lot of effort right now to allow physicians that want to keep working, to keep working. That’s one big issue,” Johnson said.
Baby boomers don’t interact with the health care system the same way the previous generation did, he said.
Boomers are quicker to seek help for a problem and less likely to put up with a chronic issue, like a painful knee.
“This population is also more sophisticated, in some ways, as far as wanting to know more about their problems. They ask more questions,” Johnson said.
As boomers enter old age, they do so with fewer children than the previous generation, Johnson said.
Children of boomers also typically live far from their parents, and many are not in a financial position to help parents, he said, “just due to the economic changes.”
Yet family connections are an important factor in keeping seniors healthy, Lang said.
“It’s the family support that’s really needed to help make sure they have a safe environment for their home situation, for trying to identify when the time is right to transition from the home to a longer-term-care facility,” he said.
Since Peterson began her exercise regimen several years ago, her family has grown to include “three adorable grandsons,” and her energy level remains high.
“I can still carry the 30-pounder and the 25-pounder down the steps, one in each arm,” she said.
Dave Olson is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead which is owned by Forum Communications Co.