Friday, December 28, 2012

It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Senior Center (Or Get Ready; Here Come the Boomers)

Observation: The business section of our local newspaper has been running some interesting health-related stories lately. I’d never expected to find them here, but when you think about it, the bottom line of these features is definitely an economic one.

One recent and extensive story by the Associated Press deals with palliative care. I’ve written about his topic several times but was surprised when it appeared on the front page of the business section. It explores the evolution of hospice, its philosophy of caring for the chronically ill, the public’s perception of it and the services it entails. It wasn’t until the last few paragraphs that I understood why it appears in the business section.

The writer noted that a Health Affairs study published earlier in the year “showed a $7,000 savings per hospital admission for palliative care patients compared with those without palliative care.”.

The story also related that even palliative care’s greatest cheerleaders, who are largely younger health care providers, admit that the movement wouldn’t be spreading if hospitals weren’t showing cost savings.

In another first-page, business-section story from a reporter who works for the California Health Report, readers learn how senior centers are changing. More and more centers are updating with remodels and offering amenities like “cyber cafes” with computers and wi-fi.; workout rooms; lunch service with healthy choices (goodbye to meatloaf, macaroni-and-cheese and cream of mushroom soup); geriatric care coordinators (some are nurses) who help the center’s clients navigate the health system; and Passport to Health programs that offer free assessments of vision, blood pressure, weight, body mass index and overall health risks.

“It’s not your grandmother’s senior center,” said one community official whose town has revamped its center.

A couple of years ago, a new senior center opened in my community that offers many of the amenities and programs mentioned above. The activity director said there is a conscious effort everywhere in the country to offer programs, mainly to attract boomers.

So why did these stories appear in the business section?

Because palliative care programs and seniors’ participation in activities at modern and inviting centers will keep clients healthier longer, and that means lower costs to care for them both in the near and distant future. With the boomers coming into the Medicare system full-steam ahead, these costs are going to be considerable.

Offering these types of services also is highly dependent on a good workforce of nurses. We are ideally equipped to work in the community as teachers, case managers and caretakers. We also must keep in mind that working with boomers will call for different approaches. Helping them maintain health should include asking them to take a greater role in it, and from what I’ve seen, they will want to. Many are better educated and more proactive than people in their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. And keeping boomers physically and mentally active will demand more than a meeting place to play mahjong, bocce ball and canasta.

Do you work with seniors?

Are you seeing a change in the types of services for which they are asking?

What do you think are some of the services and activities that should be provided?

Tell us about it.

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