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The silver wave. The graying of America. The silver tsunami.  No matter what you call it, the fact remains—America really is getting older. For healthcare, an industry that’s already stretched thin, this national trend is worrying. 

Here’s what healthcare employers should know about America’s changing demographics and how to prepare for the coming years.

What Is the Silver Tsunami?

The silver tsunami is a term used to describe a rapidly aging population. Although the phrase is common today, terms like “age wave” and “aging tsunami” have been in use since the 1980s. Clearly, our culture has been concerned about changing age demographics for many years.

Today, when we talk about the “silver tsunami,” we’re generally referring to the number of Baby Boomers reaching age 65 and up. Members of the Baby Boomer generation are now aged anywhere from their mid-50s to mid-70s. Currently, there are around 76.4 million Baby Boomers in the United States, and they’re retiring at accelerated rates. Normally, the population of retired Baby Boomers rises by about 1.5%-2.5% each year. But in 2020, the retired Boomer population rose by a record-breaking 3.2%. That accounts for about 3.2 million new retirees.

Putting the pieces together, many Americans are now reaching an age where they are either retiring or considering retirement. Simultaneously, they’re becoming more likely to need and seek long-term care

Fact-Checking Alarmist Language

The term “silver tsunami” can be a convenient and catchy way to describe a national trend. But it’s a loaded term, and not always a useful one. Referring to older citizens as a “tsunami” may suggest that they’re a uniform force of destruction. That’s both insulting and inaccurate.

Large senior populations do create more demands for healthcare, and it can’t be denied that the industry is already struggling to provide care to everyone who needs it. But one of the reasons so many Baby Boomers need care today is because the national life expectancy has dramatically increased. In fact, between 1959 and 2014, life expectancy rose by almost 10 years. Fatalities related to heart disease, cancer, and HIV all dropped during this time. The fact that we have a large senior population is a wonderful thing.

Today, Americans aged 65 to 72 are more likely to be working than at any other point before. This is especially true for people with college degrees. Older Americans enrich our workforce, our communities, and our culture. That’s all the more reason to focus on how the healthcare industry can find workers and thrive in challenging circumstances.

How Does the Silver Tsunami Affect Healthcare?

A population that skews older means more demand for healthcare and fewer candidates in the workforce. Regardless of their age, everyone feels the effects of a strained healthcare system. 

A Worsening Candidate Shortage

Right now, the average RN is 50 years old. Not to mention, many healthcare workers opted to retire early during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment in nursing programs has increased in recent years, but due partly to capped enrollment, this supply of new nurses can’t keep up with the demand. 

While the nursing shortage gets a lot of public attention, worker shortages are even more extreme in other positions. Mercer estimates that low-salary roles like certified nursing assistants and home health aides will face a 3.2 million worker shortage within five years.

Healthcare needs new workers. But younger workers were hit especially hard by burnout during the pandemic. Altogether, there’s great uncertainty about whether young workers will be there to step up to the roles vacated by older workers.

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Growing Demand for Care

Older Americans use more healthcare than any other group. They also have more chronic conditions than other age groups, meaning they’re more likely to need specialized care. As a result, more healthcare providers will be caring for patients with concurrent conditions in the near future. 

As the population of older Americans grows, senior and assisted living can expect an increase in demand. But home health care will probably see a more dramatic rise than any other sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health aide positions are expected to grow by 33%—far above average. 

Changing Services for Older Patients

As home healthcare rises in popularity and demand, more healthcare businesses must accommodate people who want to age at home. Older Americans place increasing importance on retaining independence. Senior living communities that hope to attract residents must respond to changing ideas of what it means to age. They can do this by offering more resident independence and by creating a greater sense of home with cultural programming and flexible care options. In addition, healthcare providers will need to strongly emphasize preventative care to help prevent mobility issues and support independent aging.

It’s not just residents’ desires that are changing. Economic brackets are also shifting. Middle-income seniors are growing as a demographic, and healthcare providers must find ways to give this group the care they need and want at a price point they can afford. That may mean offering completely new care models, including more use of telehealth, and shorter and less intensive stays.

The Effect on Patients Under 65

Experts suggest that all patients will feel the effects of the strained healthcare industry, regardless of age. With less time to spend on all patients, healthcare providers may need to abbreviate appointments and stick to a stricter agenda.

Many patients have already reported being affected by shortages, noting long wait times and trouble securing appointments. But recent shifts toward telemedicine may help solve these problems. Since many healthcare organizations have relied on telehealth to provide care during the pandemic, these providers may be well-positioned to promote digital appointments in the future.

Preparing for the Silver Tsunami

Here are a few strategies employers can use to prepare as the senior population continues to grow. 

  • Recruit directly from nursing programs
  • Advertise the benefits of working in your post-acute environment, which may be less stressful than acute care
  • Host in-person job events, open house interviews, and community events
  • Take advantage of social recruiting by establishing a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and even TikTok and Instagram
  • Maximize your reach by following SEO best practices when writing job posts
  • Re-engage former employees and past candidates with the help of a robust applicant tracking system
  • Provide ongoing training for geriatric care, including entry-level training for recent graduates
  • Financially support employees who are pursuing additional healthcare training with loan assistance and tuition reimbursements
  • Improve your company culture so workers are attracted to your business
  • Create professional opportunities for older Americans who aren’t ready to retire (perhaps with in-house training programs to help candidates find work as caregivers)

Better Hiring With Apploi

Apploi’s streamlined hiring can help you easily find the best candidates and provide superior care to our aging community members.

Interested in learning more about how you can recruit, hire, and onboard healthcare staff quickly? Contact us today for a free demo of our end-to-end talent management solution.

Melanie Boroosan

Over her six years in healthcare administration, Melanie has managed human resources, legal, compliance, payroll, and recruitment efforts at a corporate level. This oversight granted her a deep appreciation for the unique needs of healthcare managers, and for the direct ways that business operations affect the wellbeing of each employee. As Apploi’s Director of Healthcare Innovation, Melanie draws from her experience in healthcare HR and ancillary long-term care to pursue a vision of holistic healthcare staffing. Her work is rooted in the knowledge that great care begins with improving quality of life for all healthcare workers.