Health Decline Among Americans May Signal Need for More Home Health

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Billie Whitehurst By Billie Whitehurst, MS, RN 
Executive Vice President, Extended Care and Care Operations, Change Healthcare
Home Health Care Worker with Patient

You’ve probably read the statistic that 10,000 Americans are retiring daily. But you might not be aware that Americans are sicker at the time of retirement than previous generations, which underscores the need for home health services.

In fact, the mortality rate crept up 1.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, the first time that has happened since 2005, according to the Society of Actuaries. The increase also marks just the second time since 1980 that an increase of more than 1 percent has been seen.

For those paying attention to home healthcare trends, the Bloomberg article notes that more Americans at retirement age are having difficulties with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, walking or eating without assistance. A study of survey data from the University of Michigan shows that 12.5 percent of Americans at the current retirement age of 66 had issues with ADLs by their late 50s. When the retirement age was 65, just 8.8 percent of people had problems with ADLs in their late 50s.

Another part of the study showed that one-fourth of Americans at the current retirement age reported they were in “fair” or “poor” health by the time they were 60. When full retirement age was 65, the statistic was 2.6 points lower of those reporting they were in ill health by 60.

Finally, the reported cognitive decline of people at the current retirement age of 66 also has increased slightly by the 60-year mark. Just over 10 percent of Americans report dementia or other cognitive decline by age 60.

What this means for home health

Home health organizations should be paying close attention to these trends for two reasons. The first is obvious: more people having difficulties with ADLs equals a greater need for home healthcare services. But you also need to understand the potential impact on your business.

It’s unfortunate that Americans are sicker at retirement age, but home care organizations should be looking for opportunities to partner with physicians that have higher percentages of Medicare patients who might need services. Forward-thinking organizations should be looking to expand their private service offerings.

What services can you offer to help older Americans age in place? Is it transportation or laundry services? Meals? Handyman services? Although it’s logical to leverage the services you already are providing, you also may want to think about complementary services you can develop in-house or partner with other local providers/non-profits.

And while you’re looking at new opportunities to serve your community, you should look inwardly, too, to your own employees. As the statistics show, not everyone will be in the best health at retirement. How can you better serve your employees up to their retirement? What ways can you make their work lives easier?

The answers will vary, based on your organization’s size, geography and employee demographics. But there’s no question that we’re all getting older each day and that a noble goal is to help people age gracefully.

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