The country is aging. Between 2020 and 2050, we will see a shift in population dynamics such that 20 percent of our population will be over 65. This may not seem like a large percentage at first glance, but never before in history has the senior population neared or exceeded the working population size.
For comparison, the 65-plus group made up only 8 percent of the population in 1950 and 12 percent as recently as 2000. Before the discovery of antibiotics and other more modern medical treatments, living beyond 50 years of age was a rarity.
This heralds big changes in everything from entertainment to transportation to health care to fashion.
The Baby Boomers
The aging of the “baby boomers” – individuals who were born over a 19-year period following World War II – is the reason for the growth of the senior population. After enduring a prolonged and devastating war, soldiers returned home to start families at the same time. This caused a tremendous increase in the number of babies being born over a short time, and to the creation of a significant portion of today’s population.
Baby boomers drove the housing market as they came of age to buy homes and had a big impact on the tech boom of the ’90s and early 2000s during their 40s and 50s, some of the most productive years for most employees.
The aging of this population is not the distant future. It’s already happening, and you can be a part of positive change. Those who understand the physical, psychological and social demands of an aging population will be in a unique position to advise and direct for-profits, nonprofits and government agencies in the near future, as they work to realign their policies and processes with this new reality.
If you are interested in working to better the lives of the elderly population, getting your Master of Arts in Gerontology online is a great step you can take today to prepare for the future.
What Is Gerontology?
As you may have already surmised from the introduction, gerontology is the study of aging processes. It looks at how aging impacts the body, social interactions, health needs and changes in society. Those with this understanding help shape processes and policies within organizations that are either seeking to manage or provide needed services to older adults.
We should note that gerontology is not the same as geriatrics, which is a medical professional path that studies how to provide medical care for the aging. However, both professions share the goal of helping those who are of advanced age live a better quality and more fulfilled life.
Unique Needs of This Population
Through the years, the education system, employment, entertainment and everything else in life have had to adapt as the baby boomers progressed through various stages of life. Now, as this group enters retirement, we must adapt again.
Let’s look at some various sectors that will be directly impacted by this phenomenon:
Twenty-one million baby boomers are considered obese. Fourteen million have diabetes. Sixty percent are living with a chronic condition. All of this means that the health care needs of this population will be great.
Becoming a doctor or nurse with a geriatrics specialty is not the only way to address this increased strain on our health care system. Those who have a broader view and can see the big picture because of their training in gerontology and other education and experience will be able to help with the administration, regulation and implementation of procedures and policies to coordinate the care services that the aging need.
The aging population is committed to living life to its fullest and continuing to participate in activities that they love.
Society will need to adapt to better provide mobility options. We will need technologies that help people stay better connected with their peers and community resources. We will need to find new and better ways to help the aging remain integrated in and not isolated from society.
New solutions in housing need to be developed. Seniors today want better options than wasting away in poorly run senior homes. They want senior living communities that provide them with the resources they need to stay independent and vital.
Compared to when baby boomers were young, there is now a vast landscape of entertainment options. Those who study aging will help companies develop entertainment that this group will consume and enjoy as they age.
As the population shifts, we’ll see increased focus on technologies across industries that make aging easier. Just as the needs of baby boomers led to a boom in sales of appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators as they hit adulthood, they will again be looking for solutions to specific problems.
Beyond the Boomers
The aging trend goes far beyond the boomers. Millennials are now the largest population group in U.S. history. One in 20 boys born today is expected to live beyond 100 years of age. Their average life expectancy has risen to 76.4 years. One out of every 40 men today who have reached the age of 40 will become a centurian — someone who is 100 or older.
As we are sure you are aware, the life expectancy for women, who typically live longer than men, is even higher. One in 10 women born today will live to at least 100.
All of this indicates that the increased focus on senior care needs will likely become our new reality.
Pursuing an Online Gerontology Degree
If you are interested in working with an aging population, consider enhancing your existing professional degree with a Master of Arts in Gerontology or Master of Aging Services Management. This is a unique opportunity to align your passion for eldercare with the ability to make a real difference in the lives of others and in your community as a whole.