Change and Consequences: Senior Care in Today’s World


Published: 03/02/2012


The face of senior care has changed dramatically in recent years, and we can probably blame (or thank?) the big three -- the economy, job market, and housing slump -- for the shift.


After decades of reliance upon nursing homes, the industry has expanded and evolved to meet the growing demand that aging baby boomers and their parents have created, not to mention the fact that boomers and seniors are more outspoken about what they want. And perhaps not surprisingly, nursing homes aren’t high on their lists.


Change is good, but it does have serious consequences: for one, the increased demand has put a strain on community-based support programs, like Meals on Wheels and senior centers. With more people accessing these vital resources, and less dollars allocated by federal and state governments to sustain these offerings, some end up in nursing homes because they can’t get the support they need at home. “Sandwiched” caregivers burn out quickly, trying to balance a career and their own family’s needs with providing care for their parent(s). Seniors who live alone with no family nearby often end up as victims of neglect, fraud or elder abuse.


It’s not all bad news though. Many families are enjoying the benefits of becoming a multigenerational household, something that may have been done out of financial necessity but has proven to be rewarding in ways they may not have expected. Sandwich generation caregivers are finding there are others in similar shoes and are coming up with creative ways to manage all the layers of their complicated caregiving lives (and recent studies have shown that caregiving may actually be good for your health). Beloved actor Mickey Rooney shared his painful story of elder abuse with members of a Congressional committee, getting this critical issue on lawmakers’ radars.


Here are a few senior care trends worth noting:


  1. Use of technology: From robots to remote monitoring, to phone-based caregiver apps and doctor’s appointments by Skype, there are a number of exciting new developments in the technology world that give caregivers and seniors hope for the future. Though a computer is no replacement for a human caregiver, if some tasks (for instance, maintenance of medical records) can be streamlined more efficiently that way, that leaves more time for caregivers to tackle the hundreds of other things on their to do lists.
  2. Urban villages & naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs): The New York Times covered this phenomenon in a featured series on their blog, “The New Old Age.” As more seniors age in place in metropolitan areas, more of these “villages” have emerged, where neighbors help neighbors and small non-profit organizations set up a network for residents to access volunteers who can provide transportation, snow removal, and other errand-running/general handyman services.
  3. Niche retirement communities: Lifelong learning programs, where senior care communities share campuses or resources with a local university, are becoming increasingly popular. Other specialized retirement homes are popping up too; some are serving LGBT elders, and there is a place in Texas just for RV enthusiasts.


Perhaps those famous words from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities “the best of times and worst of times” would best describe senior care today. There are rich opportunities to do things differently, to create new senior care options that may work better than what we had in the past. Simultaneously, there are challenges we’ve never faced before (for example, what happens when Medicare or Social Security dollars run out), and no easy answers on the horizon.