2011– the year of the “Silver Tsunami”

While the news that the first wave of “baby boomers” to hit 65 is bad news for many medical professionals, for wellness providers — such as chiropractors — it means an increased need and demand for non-invasive, safe, and effective wellness care.

Starting in 2011, we’re going to experience what’s been dubbed the “Silver Tsunami,” as the first of the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 celebrate their 65th birthday.

In past years, this demographic group was a prime target for medication and surgery. Yet, now, individuals reaching Medicare age are increasingly looking for alternatives to the medical paradigm that nearly defined their parents’ generation.

According to Richard Allman, MD, professor and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care, there are already approximately 7,000 certified geriatricians, and another 20,000 will be required. Dr. Allman notes that the aging population will also need additional nurses, therapists, dietitians, social workers, and community caregivers.

“Doctors alone don’t deliver geriatric care,” he says. “You’ve got to have a team to optimize the quality of life for older people. We’re recruiting students who are dentists, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, optometrists, psychologists and a number of other disciplines.”

Although Allman doesn’t mention complementary and alternative wellness providers, the increased demand for these professionals may very well outdistance that for allopaths.

Focusing on health and wellness is something that baby boomers have learned in recent years. Andrew Duxbury, MD, a UAB geriatrician, suggests that the average boomer who reaches 65 in reasonable health will live into his or her 80s or early 90s. More importantly, these individuals will remain healthy and active well into their 80s.

“The boomers have always gotten what they want when they want it, with the demographic numbers to push society to accede to their demands,” he says. “They are not a generation to sit back and let history roll over them. They’ll go out and make their own history.”

He suggests that demand for such things as joint replacements, medications to improve aches and pains of aging, and bypassing of clogged arteries will all skyrocket. Dr. Duxbury says the boomers will want the system to work around them and their active lifestyles and will not put up with all-day visits to the doctor. They won’t be sitting around playing shuffle board at the retirement center.

“The boomers, with their health and vitality relatively intact into older age, will completely change how Americans conceive of what it means to be old,” Duxbury points out. “In twenty years, Cher, still looking the same as today, will be on her 10th farewell tour, your average senior citizen’s dance will have couples getting down to the Rolling Stones and 80-somethings will be riding their Harleys at Sturgis.”

Like Allman, Duxbury fails to mention the increased use of non-medical approaches but it’s clear that older people will increasingly turn to non-medical care, as either a first step in their preventive/wellness routine, or as an alternative to failed medical intervention.

Allman does have one thing right. Health care professionals need to rethink their attitude toward older patients. “We face institutional and cultural age-ism, and people don’t want to talk about it,” he says. “They think of aging as dying and not living. We’ve got to change the culture and get people embracing the fact that aging is a good thing. If you’re aging, you’re still alive, and we really want to emphasize that people can live with high levels of function and capability.”

Wellness care fields are dominated by young practitioners who often shy away from aging patients because of their pre-conceived notions about their receptivity to alternative care. But numerous studies show this group is open to and often uses CAM procedures.

“People 50 and older tend to be high users of complementary and alternative medicine,” noted Cheryl Matheis, AARP Director of Health Strategies. A 2005 research study published in The Gerontologist concluded: “Of respondents over 65 years of age, 88% used CAM, with dietary supplements and chiropractic most commonly reported (65% and 46%, respectively).”

At the start of this new year of a new decade, we need to look forward to that Silver Tsunami and think of it as our opportunity to improve the lives of 76 million people who — if not for wellness providers like us — would be left with just drugs, surgery, and other medical options. We need to learn more about the health issues faced by older patients and provide the kinds of care and advice that most benefit them.

As Duxbury reminds us: “The last boomer will not die until sometime around 2080. They will be with us a long time.”

SOURCE: The University of Alabama at Birmingham