It’s being called the “silver tsunami” — the flood of Americans who will be over the age of 65 in the coming years.
Already 13 percent of the American population is older than 65. That number will rise to 20 percent by 2030, when more than 70 million Americans will be senior citizens, reports the Institute of Medicine, most of whom will require a sophisticated level of health care that our country’s system is beginning to brace for. As medical advancements extend their lives, it also creates new health care crises: such as a spike in the number of people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Now, in New Jersey, is the time to prepare for this tsunami of people who will require extensive memory care services.
A new report by the Alzheimer’s Association, titled the “2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” says more than 5 million Americans already have the disease, or one in eight people over the age of 65. The number will only grow. In New Jersey, the number of people to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is expected to reach 170,000 by 2025, according to the report.
This year, the disease will cost the nation $200 billion in health care and related costs. The number is estimated to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Memory care has already become an important health care specialty. We now understand that we cannot include individuals needing memory care with seniors who need the intensive care of a skilled nursing home. We need to build more memory-care environments in New Jersey that allow individuals to maintain a level of independence while being in a safe and secure environment.
We also will need to find better ways to care for these individuals at home. You may be surprised to know that one in seven Alzheimer’s patients live alone, says the Alzheimer’s Association, where they face increased risk of falls, burns and other injuries. Many others live at home but with a caregiver, usually family members who must sacrifice themselves to provide 24-hour care for their loved one with this debilitating disease. We need to provide more support for these at-home caregivers, who in 2011 provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care, says the Alzheimer’s Association.
We also need to be more proactive with this disease, using more of our medical technologies to accelerate the race for effective treatments and cures. Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association says, with no cure and no prevention. Dementia is one of the leading public health crises among seniors, and there is simply not enough attention focused on it.
A tsunami in nature gives no warning. Yet, our silver tsunami offers one precious gift: we know it is coming. We need to prepare for our seniors now.
Roberto Muñiz, president & CEO
Francis E. Parker Memorial Home Inc.