Within the next 20 years, the entire U.S. will look like Florida. That doesn’t mean we’ll all be living in a beachfront home surrounded by palm trees, but rather that the number of people over age 65 in the U.S. is set to double, accounting for a fifth of the population. Currently, the fastest growing age segment is adults over age of 75.
This “silver tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers will create a wealth of job opportunities related to senior care, as well as the potential for technological advancements that will transform the industry. But the biggest challenge will be finding people to fill positions that require a high level of engagement and compassion, says Dr. Jacquelyn Kung, CEO of Activated Insights, a senior care company that aims to spur employee engagement in the aging services. Jacquelyn has worked with seniors since she began volunteering at the nursing home across the street from her house at age 12.
For the first segment of this two-part series, we spoke with Jacquelyn about how technology will — and won’t — transform the space, the impact the worker shortage will have on families and why she loves working in the industry.
You’ve spoken on how technology will impact your industry. What potential do you see for these advancements to improve senior care?
Aging services as an industry does require a certain amount of repetitive tasks in addition to our efforts to provide quality care, and technology can help the industry become more efficient and alleviate some of those more mundane functions. But the biggest advances may not be where people expect. For example, many believe robots and artificial intelligence will alleviate many caregiving tasks. But McKinsey Global Institute just put out a report showing much of this work isn’t rote enough to automate. Case in point: Helping patients maintain hygiene is different for every person.
Are there any unexpected technologies that may have an outsized impact?
One of the most revolutionary technologies for seniors will likely be self-driving cars. If you think about it, one of the hardest conversations you have with your parents is when you have to take away their car keys. Companies like Lyft have already done much to reduce family strife. These services allow people to stay in their homes for longer and not feel as if they’re a burden on their family.
Exoskeletons will also change senior care for the better. Not necessarily the full body exoskeleton people imagine, but robotics that help with lifting and moving people. Companies like SuperFlex are putting exoskeleton robotics into clothing now and looking at aging as a first use case. Also, people think of robots in senior care as something that will care for you, but some of the promising applications are robots that do simple things such as bring you water or go for a walk with you when you get up.
You’re focused on helping improve employee recruitment and retention in senior living facilities. Why is this especially important?
Right now there’s a shortage of workers in our industry and as Baby Boomers age, that issue will only become more exacerbated. As an industry, we need to be more attractive as a place to grow a career. We are working on getting positive recognition for the many great senior care providers in the U.S. which often get overshadowed by the bad apples and negative media coverage of the whole sector. If we can’t solve this worker shortage then we’ll have an even bigger problem: Families won’t be able to get the help they need — or prices will be so high that good care will be even more unaffordable.
What’s behind the worker shortage? A lack of interest in the field or simply the overwhelming number of seniors in need of quality care?
It’s more the latter. But it’s compounded by the fact that people don’t think of this as a career choice. Most people don’t grow up saying they want to work with an aging population. People aren’t exposed to it and there’s a stigma associated with aging. But the reality is that opportunity in the industry is vast. There are the jobs you think of — such as home health aide, which is the fastest growing job type in the country — and then there are the less obvious positions such as accountants or wellness coordinators. The career options are wide and, at the higher levels, the compensation can be very lucrative. In some cases, people earn salaries and bonuses that rival the finance world. Also, personally, I love working with seniors. Older adults have a great sense of humor — they’re really funny and they care less what people think.
Another challenge, as you’ve noted, is that senior care remains very localized. Can you describe how that affects the industry at large?
Yes, this plays out in a couple ways. First, states have very different policies on what services are available to which clients and where. The cost to the client and the reimbursement to the provider varies by location as well. So, for example, if you need in-home care and you’re in California, providers such as Caregiver Resource Centers will need to know what county you’re in to determine the services for which you qualify.
Another facet of this is that families navigating the system from afar on behalf of a relative face a very real obstacle to securing quality care. You really need to speak with people who know the local providers, which is why I often recommend people hire a geriatric care manager. Perhaps in part because of these geographic rules and policies, the industry remained very small and localized. There are only 450 senior care housing companies that have more than 10 locations.
Again, this just reiterates the importance of understanding what’s available in the place your loved one lives.
Want to continue the conversation? Jacquelyn drew on her deep experience to provide advice for how seniors and their families can successfully navigate the world of senior care.
The information in this article is presented as is.
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