Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer
Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

Everyone is spouting about the “silver tsunami” cliché nowadays, and with good reason. This demographic shift is going to shake the healthcare sector to its very core, costing elders and their families billions and spelling financial hardships for operators caught unprepared.

But by now, I’m sure you’ve gotten plenty to be sick of hearing the phrase “silver tsunami.” Maybe we should come up with a few new expression to signify what’s projected to be a doubling of Americans age 65-plus by 2060 (up to 98 million). The Aged Avalanche? Elderly Earthquake? Fragile Flood?

Whatever you want to call it, the numbers are hard to ignore. Stemming from those figures I just mentioned, about 80% of those seniors have at least one chronic condition and 77% have two, according to the National Council on Aging. Bottom line, the over-the-hill outbreak is going to require a lot of TLC from LTC, which is why experts estimate that 75% of this population will require some form of long-term care and 40% will need care from a skilled-nursing facility.

The American Hospital Association recently highlighted some of these numbers in a new issue brief to its members, talking about how hospitals can operate in a more “age-friendly” fashion. Doing so is crucial for health systems, the association argues, as it “redeploys and prioritizes existing hospital resources,” and it also “puts hospitals ahead of the curve in preparing for the impending market shift.” One key piece of this new care utopia for the elderly, the AHA says, is its “4M model,” which includes focusing on what Matters to each older adult, using age-friendly Medications for those individuals, keying in on Mentation to manage depression and other cognitive concerns, and maximizing Mobility.

“These intricate factors call for a differently designed care delivery model that responds to older patients’ personal preferences, medical needs and values,” the AHA wrote. “If we’re not focused on the oldest and sickest people, our eye is off the ball,” it added earlier in the issue brief.

Already, AHA members are testing out these methods in their own hospitals, and post-acute, long-term care and assisted living facilities. One in particular — the Anne Arundel Medical Center, in Annapolis, MD — has seen early success in its nine acute care units, emergency department and 25 assisted living homes. It has established “age-friendly champions” there, who have helped to bolster patient education while reducing patients’ length of stay by about 26 hours.

Now, I am not going to sit here at my keyboard and tell readers to turn their own facilities into “age-friendly” SNFs or nursing homes, as that feels a bit redundant — like telling a college dean to adopt a 20-something-oriented campus, or a principal to create a teen-tilted high school. You folks have been fighting this battle and preparing for the gray-haired gust for years now. But I think it’s interesting that hospitals are trying to find ways to think and act more like you. Just this week, we had another example with one Georgia hospital saying that it is investing $3 million to transform three of its floors into an 80-bed skilled nursing facility. That will give University Health System 30% of the Georgia nursing home market share, positioning it better to compete with others such as PruittHealth and SavaSeniorCare. ProMedica, meanwhile, is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that everyone is watching. 

Maybe the best way to respond to this trend is by thinking a little more like a hospital and finding ways to better partner with those in your community. The AHA says it is guided in this endeavor by its own “Path Forward,” and commitment to advance health in America, with has an eye toward bolstering access to care, adding value for its patients, patterning with others, focusing on well-being, and coordinating care. For you, that could include harnessing technology to better anticipate the needs of older adults, as well as providing care in more convenient fashions. One new poll, out of the Associated Press, challenged assumptions, with the stat that 88% of adults over 40 years old would be comfy using at least one type of telemedicine on themselves or a loved one.

The mature mudslide is likely to throw a few more curveballs your way by the time 2060 comes along . Hopefully you have a head start in this age-friendly revolution.

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @mstempniak.