What are three of the most significant challenges that health care providers face in the delivery of health care services to the aging population?
Geriatric medicine is its own special category of medical care tailored specifically to the needs of the aging. As the so-called Baby Boomers enter retirement age, thereby seriously increasing the number of senior citizens requiring more medical attention, the burden on the health care system is growing significantly. Geriatric medicine is focused more on the natural process of aging, which affects every element of the human anatomy. Of particulary concern for the elderly are the states of their respiratory and circulatory systems, both of which are certain to weaken over time, and both of which can require expensive procedures to repair infirmities. In addition to the natural aging and, consequently, deterioration of the respiratory and circulatory systems, other problems common to aging that require expensive surgical fixes and/or medications involve incontinence, mental impairment, especially from Alzheimer's Disease, vision and hearing loss, and increasing immobility.
Geriatric medicine presents a huge financial burden to the United States. That is a simple fact of life -- a fact that has grown as people live longer and, as noted, the Baby Boomers age and become afflicted with age-related illnesses.
In listing challenges that health care providers face, then, financial costs is at the top of the list. Medicare, the government-sponsored health care plan for the elderly, is in bad financial condition, with little reason for optimism at the moment that situation will improve. As health care budgets tighten, more difficult decisions will have to be made regarding the medical options available to the elderly. Certain procedures may not be available because of costs that could otherwise prolong a life.
Another challenge involves the desire of many elderly people to live as independently as possible. The thought of ending up in a nursing home, being attended to by low-paying, often undertrained staff while having to divest oneself of all or most personal belongings due to space constraints is a terrifying proposal for many people. Helping the elderly to enjoy the maximum amount of independence their physical condition will allow, therefore, presents a serious challenge to health care providers.
Finally, the increasing threat of post-operative infections and the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses a very serious challenge for health care providers. The elderly often have weakened immune systems, especially if they are undergoing a surgical procedure to cure an illness, or are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be most acutely felt by the elderly, and by children. Dealing with that problem is a major challenge for health care providers.