In just eight years, 20 percent of all North Carolinians will be 65 or older. Nationwide there are now more Americans in the 65-plus age group than at any other time in U.S. history – with those 85 and older the fastest-growing segment.
The Frank H. Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, an affiliate of the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, will shine light on the implications of this demographic shift at the “Business of Health Care: Adapting to an Aging Economy conference” on Oct. 27.
The event will feature industry, policy and academic experts including Dr. John Haaga, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research for the National Institute on Aging, and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.
The conference, part of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Business of Health Care Initiative, will convene public-health experts, academic researchers, policymakers and business leaders to examine the issues and opportunities surrounding the rising number of older Americans.
“We’re well aware of the effect of the baby boomers on programs like Medicare and Social Security, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg as boomers stay in the workforce, reassess their living spaces and demand products to help them age in place,” says James H. Johnson, Jr. director of the Kenan Institute’s education, aging and economic development initiatives and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. “The unique needs of older Americans present not only new challenges, but also new prospects for innovation, business development and employment growth.”
Coupled with increasing life expectancies, this unprecedented increase in older segments of the population – sometimes called the “silver tsunami” – is profoundly affecting social, economic and political institutions in unforeseen ways in North Carolina and across the U.S.
Many of those prospects are focused on improving long-term care and support. While older Americans are healthier than previous generations by many measures, an increased life expectancy means more are living with a chronic health condition. In 2014 in North Carolina, 82 percent of older adults had at least one chronic disease and 38 percent had a disability. To address these issues nationally, an additional 1.2 million senior-care workers will be needed by 2025.
Preparing for the future of senior care is not just a matter of hiring and training more workers, says Johnson. “The opportunities for service businesses are there. But that’s just the core of a widening ripple of considerations. For example, many care workers are foreign-born, so immigrant-friendly government policies are critical. Many workers rely on public transportation, so those systems have to be in place and easily accessible. We need to think beyond traditional solutions and take a more holistic view of aging.”
Those opportunities include developing new models of care, consumer products and services that align with seniors’ needs, supportive workplace policies and benefits, flexible and inventive housing and age-friendly communities that promote engagement.