Elder Care

Elder care is an issue that is growing in most industrialized nations. Due to technological advances and changing demographics, there is greater need for social services and medical care for seniors. The number of seniors in society is increasing as is the proportion of the elderly to the general population. This is most notable among seniors above 80 years old.

The oldest people in society have the most need of services, and this fact has presented a challenge to welfare states. Also, technological developments in the treatment of disease and in symptoms management improve the quality of life and extend the lives of seniors. A significant number of experts posit that elder care costs are increasing more as a result of an increasing number of seniors as opposed to increases in the cost of care per capita.

Since older people are living longer, there are more of them. Meantime, many countries are experiencing economic downturns. As a result, levels of tension may increase among the various bodies that contribute to providing elder care, for instance, on local, regional and national levels as well as at the service level: health care workers and social services, for example.

Providing elder care is a two-pronged issue of offering actual care while keeping costs to a minimum. Many experts state that the answer lies in using resources with greater efficiency. By re-evaluating resources, from time to time, it becomes possible to ration resources or decide they are no longer necessary. By examining how an organization might improve efficiency and then implementing these changes, a better standard of care might be provided at a lower cost. Improved coordination among organizations is also a crucial component of giving better care with a smaller cash outlay.

During the 1980s, countries such as Sweden implemented a program of enhancing efficiency throughout the systems that contribute to providing elder care. However, now that the system has been reigned in and toned up, it is difficult to see where further savings might be made. The answer must lay elsewhere.

Some say that technology may be the avenue to take for furthering efficiency and lowering the cost of elder care. Technological advances have made it possible to speed up some procedures, increase their safety and use fewer resources. On the other hand, there are no simpler or less expensive cures for major diseases on the drawing board during the next decade.

Treating seniors for cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and arthritis is still a costly endeavor. At the same time, medical advances mean that patients afflicted with these diseases survive longer and, as a result, have increased needs for special health-related services. As health care professionals adjust their expectations regarding anticipated survival rates for such disease processes, they become more willing to offer life-extending treatments to the elderly than in previous years.

Still, it remains possible to make technological improvements to home elder care. Homes can be fitted with equipment and devices to increase the ability of seniors to care for themselves and to ease the work of caregivers. By adapting homes to the needs of seniors, the need for caregivers may even be postponed well into the future. Even so, there is only so much that can be done on this score. It remains difficult to automate the basic aspects of daily life: bathing, getting dressed and preparing food. A certain amount of hands-on, personalized service will likely be necessary at some point.

Another way to address providing elder care is to change the system of social welfare. Since the 1990s, governments have been seeking new methods for organizing elder care. Some countries have considered a complete overhaul of social welfare systems.

Some have suggested that the pressure on health care systems might be reduced by supporting more informal care measures. This might be done by offering financial assistance and support measures and providing families occasional respite from their caregiving chores. Parts of Europe have used this approach to elder care; encouraging, shaping and incorporating the provision of elder care by family members into public policy.

Savings could be made by making better use of family members as caregivers. On the other hand, children who care for their parents lose their ability to contribute to the workforce. Taking charge of elderly parents entails staying at home, feeling trapped and alienated from society. It is clear, then, that while there are more seniors than ever before, there is no one-size-fits-all elder care solution.

Elder Care: Selected full-text books and articles

The Care of Tomorrow's Elderly By Marion Ein Lewin; Sean Sullivan American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1989
Caring for the Disabled Elderly: Who Will Pay? By Alice M. Rivlin; Joshua M. Wiener; Raymond J. Hanley; Denise A. Spence Brookings Institution, 1988
Strategies for Therapy with the Elderly: Living with Hope and Meaning By Claire M. Brody; Vicki G. Semel Springer Publishing Company, 2006 (2nd edition)
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