Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Future of Elder Care, Part I

As my parents, friends and I myself age, I've been doing a great deal of thinking about the state of elder care in this country. The nursing home industry has indeed changed over the last few years, with the lion's share of changes having to do with offering specialized Alzheimer's and dementia care, assisted living, and palliative care for those in need. More and more long-term care facilities appear to be offering services which allow residents to move along a continuum from independent living to complete care, based upon an individual's changing needs. This is a welcome change, but there is so much more that can be done.

With the Baby Boom generation beginning to retire, I predict that the care of the elderly will be an enormous field with unlimited growth and employment potential over the next thirty years. Savvy and relatively wealthy, Boomers will alter the landscape of long-term care by demanding services that the marketplace will naturally bend over backwards to fulfill. For those in a position to finance and create specialized facilities for the care of the elderly, the adage of "build it and they will come" is incredibly apropos at this point in time when it comes to this burgeoning field of healthcare.

When this generation of elders begins to need care beyond what can be provided at home, facilities will indeed need to change in order to satisfy the needs of this new long-term care demographic. Gone will be the days of singing "Melancholy Baby" by the piano. Gone will be many of the entertainment and leisure activities enjoyed by the previous generations who came of age in the first half of the 20th century.

Boomers, having cut their teeth in the 1950's and 1960's, will have a whole new set of cultural sign-posts and icons under their collective belts, and their sensibilities and predilections will need to be honored and integrated as these individuals begin to enter long-term care. With James Dean, The Beats, Jack Kerouac, Woodstock, Richard Nixon, the Civil Rights Movement, The Beatles, the Women's Liberation Movement, and the sexual revolution as major cultural milestones as part of their collective consciousness, Boomers will need a new cultural environment within the long-term care setting which acknowledges their generational history.

As we can observe in many industries, the marketplace will follow consumer demand if a cohort of consumers has enough collective buying power to drive changes. I submit that the Baby Boom generation will do just that, and those of us savvy and caring enough to ride that wave will have the opportunity to provide specialized care to an enormous audience of consumers willing and able to pay for our compassionate services.

(I will be exploring this issue over time and welcome your comments and suggestions along the way. Stay tuned, and there will certainly be more to come.)
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