As the Baby Boomer population ages, society is on the cusp of dealing with an unprecedented number of senior citizens who will need elder care.
The United States home care market is expected to grow from $100 billion in 2016 to $225 billion by 2024, driven by an expanding elderly population. An intensifying shortage of US home health aides and physicians, a booming senior population, and the prevalence of chronic illnesses all point to a need for transformative solutions when it comes to senior care services.
This will put considerable stress on Medicare and Medicaid, but the ramifications will ripple far beyond that. Below, we'll dive into how senior care is primed for digital disruption, the challenges that transformation will solve, and more.
What is senior care?
Depending on the source you check, one becomes a senior citizen at different ages. According to Medicare, you become a senior at age 65. You can start receiving Social Security benefits at age 62, even though the Social Security Office lists 67 as the retirement age.
Regardless, senior care takes many forms in the U.S. One of the most common types is assisted living, sometimes known as senior living or more colloquially as "a home." As the name implies, these locations assist people who cannot or choose not to live on their own. Assisted living facilities are not exclusive to seniors (they also house people with disabilities), but they do make up the majority of the population at these centers.
Home care is another common type of senior care, where a nurse or other aide either lives full-time in a senior's home, or spends a portion of the day in the home tending to the patient's needs.
What are the challenges in elderly care?
Senior care carries its own set of problems that aren't prevalent in healthcare for younger patients. Arthritis and osteoporosis are common physical conditions among senior citizens that can make it difficult for them to support themselves and live alone. Mental conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia, while not as common, are devastating to the well being of the senior population.
That population, by the way, is only showing signs of growing in both the short-term and long-term. PRB projects that the number of Americans age 65 and older will more than double from 46 million in 2016 to more than 98 million by 2060. In turn, the 65-and-older age group's share of the total population will climb from 15% to almost 24%.
All of which leads to the biggest problem: sustainability.
Rising patient volumes among the general population, but particularly senior citizens, will exacerbate U.S. providers' existing labor shortage. Labor makes up about 60% of hospitals' noncapital costs and is the largest driver of operating expenses, according to Deloitte. By 2025, US providers will face a collective shortage of about 500,000 home health aides, 100,000 nursing assistants, and 29,000 nurse practitioners, Mercer estimates.
Digital Disruption in Senior Health Care
The labor shortage and sustainability problem is a serious one, but increasing digitization in the healthcare industry can help resolve it. These new digital healthcare technologies can help bring down costs, improve care quality, and create a more sustainable business model for senior care.
One of the most potentially impactful technologies is telehealth in assisted living and home care. Technology has already begun to work its way into elder care, from laptops and smartphones with large buttons and displays designed for easier senior use, to personal emergency response service (PERS) tools (think the infamous "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials).
But now, healthcare providers are beginning to leverage those same devices for more telehealth applications. Seniors can remotely access their entire care team (primary care physicians, home aides, or even family members and friends) without having to leave their homes. Certain apps can also help seniors optimize their exercise, diet, and medicine.
Wearable devices with sensors can allow physicians to more efficiently monitor senior patients in their homes to check for any irregularities, which cuts down on wasted time and resources. Even PERS tools function as a type of wearable, used primarily for emergency situations.
Certain assisted living and home care facilities are turning into smart homes to aid the aging population. Voice assistants such as the Amazon Echo (aka Alexa) and Google Home are helping seniors remember their daily schedules, such as when to eat, take medicine, or visit their doctors. Smart pillboxes help with dosage control and timing of medication. Even some smart clothing is already helping doctors monitor their patients' movements to check for irregular gaits, or to alert the care team if a fall occurs. Beyond that, motion detectors, smart mattresses, and even personal robots can help make the assisted living experience more palatable.
The next step in the digital transformation of senior care comes from artificial intelligence, which will eventually be able to predict patterns in seniors' behavior and prevent falls and other emergencies before they take place. Elders who do have to go to the hospital will have access to a personalized wellness regimen waiting for them when they return home.
Senior Care Market Trends & Statistics
As the Baby Boomer and overall population ages, the market for senior care will grow heavily in the coming years. The AARP reports that the number of seniors requiring additional care thanks to chronic illness will increase from about 14% of the senior population in 2010 to 21% by 2050.
All of this is to say that there will be a ton of opportunity for digital disruption in senior care, which means anyone who wants to capture a share of this market needs to understand the digital healthcare ecosystem, as well as healthcare regulations.