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Students and the Future of Senior Care

Author: Steve Chies, Co-Chair Vision 2025

As part of my academic work, I counsel students on the career opportunities in the senior care sector which is also my interest in the VISION 2025 project.  In a recent conversation with a student who was nearly done with the academic portion of the requirements for nursing facility licensure, I heard a student express concern over the impact of COVID might have on a career decision.

This student was questioning whether there is any future in the senior care sector, given the impact of COVID on the elderly population.  The “predictions of experts” on the demise of the senior care sector and specifically skilled nursing facilities really concerned her thinking.  Whether these “expert” predictions are correct and or merely speculation based on current situation, it was very distressing for this student.

Making predictions can be a challenging task for anyone and I am reminded of a prediction by the then Chairman of IBM.  In 1943 he that “predicted” a worldwide market for computers was about five (5).  Which was followed up by the President of DEC in 1977 who said there was no reason for an individual to have a computer in their home.  Neither understood the evolution of the product lines nor demand part of the equation.

Predictions have a way of embarrassing the author(s) when the outcome does not occur.  So as some of my colleague know, I avoid making predictions.  I have tried to focus on the facts of what we know, which is what I shared with the student on her future career in senior care.

There are 77 million in the Boomer cohort, which is aging into their 70’s and soon to be 80’s.  They will start to turn age 80 in 2026 and will peak in the 2033 to 2034.  That is not a prediction but the actual count from the Census for the past 70 years.  Why age 80 is important is because that is when chronic conditions and dependences begin to cause health and living challenges.  As the current cohort (the Silent Generation) is only about 30 million and are well into their 80’s and 90’s, the care impact of the Boomer cohort will occur in the coming 20-year time frame.

Secondly, there is no cure for aging other than death.  Certainly, the medical and pharmaceutical industries have brought forward new techniques and medications to prolong life, but everyone will eventually die.  The desired outcome is to live a quality and quantity of life to the fullest and highest possible.  But what happens if a serious accident or illness impacts our health?  How and who will care for us at that time?  This goes back to the 77 million who are aging and will definitely need care solutions and locations.

There are challenges, barriers and issues with the current care delivery and payment models that have been used to access senior care.  The expansion of those Boomers who will have health conditions that will require formal care settings is inevitable and the numbers will increase the need for highly effective and skilled leaders.  Five, ten, fifteen and twenty years from now, care and payment models will be different.  Names might change as will the settings to better accommodate the expectations of the Boomer cohort.  Regardless, the need to provide access to quality care will continue and leadership of these organizations will be required.  This student’s career potential is excellent, at least in my “predict”.  The demand for passionate, highly effective, and resilient senior care leaders is an easy prediction to support.