How Healthcare Staff Shortages Will Affect Seniors

By Jori Hamilton | Published 3/15/2019 1

Doctor and an Elderly Patient

For years, adult children have been asking the age-old question, “Who will take care of mom and dad as they age?” It’s a question that’s becoming all too prevalent as previous generations get older.

In fact, a quick look into aging in the United States reveals that there are currently 46 million Americans over the age of 65. It’s a number that is projected to more than double by 2060.

While Americans are living longer than ever however chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and diabetes occur frequently in over-65 populations. In fact, 65 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will have two or more chronic conditions.

Geriatric syndromes, such as bladder control problems, falls, dementia and osteoporosis are also quite common. Other health concerns of the elderly include depression, physical injuries, and mild cognitive changes.

These numbers alone may make you worry about senior care options for mom and dad or other loved ones. But it is critical to understand these options in the context of the current state of affairs of the healthcare industry.

The shortage of healthcare professionals

There is a current shortage of healthcare professionals in some areas and some specialties. And these shortages are predicted to get even worse. For example, the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a deficit of up to 121,300 physicians by the year 2030.

As medical staff shortages continue to expand, the populations they care for grow ever more numerous and sicker. Many families may be wondering how this will affect their elder care options in the future.

Staffing shortage by the numbers

Americans are living longer, increasing the need for physicians and nurses in general. The need is even more acute for those specializing in the unique care needs of the elderly. Research shows that there will be a 45 percent increase in demand for geriatricians between 2013 and 2025.

The staffing shortage goes far beyond physicians. As Americans get older, more people will need home health services, nursing home placement, or hospice care to remain well. All of these care locations require a multidisciplinary team that includes nurses, nursing assistants, physical therapists, and social workers — just to name a few.

Nursing assistant jobs are going unfilled annually with no resolution in sight. The nursing profession has seen a steady growth in recent years that should be sustained through 2024. However, the issue in nursing is that many current nurses are a part of the aging population. This means that when they retire or are no longer able to work, their jobs will likely remain vacant.

Related Content:  Does the US Have a Physician Shortage or a Physician Training Shortage?

Having more specialists is not enough

Having more specialists won’t be enough. All providers, from home health aides to nurses and respiratory therapists must also be trained in geriatrics.

And, staff from all over the medical field need to understand the benefits of integrated care for aging patients in order to address patients’ mental, emotional, and physical health. This is essential to ensure that holistic care is provided across the board.

It’s not just caregiving staff that is experiencing the pitfalls of being understaffed. Social workers, physical therapists, and other supportive roles in healthcare are starting to feel the pressure of the shortfall in other areas.

Staff shortages may lead to unsustainable workloads. As a result, stress levels rise work-life balance deteriorates, the threat of burnout looms. All of this can leads to higher rates of turnover that can ultimately put patients at risk of bad outcomes.

Do the elderly need a specialist?

It takes time, consideration and a certain amount of physical stamina to take care of a chronic illness properly. The complexity of providing that care is compounded when a senior has multiple chronic illnesses and one or more geriatric syndromes. 

If you have ever had to talk to an aging parent about getting help, you know how difficult it can be. A physician skilled in taking care of elderly patients can be worth their weight in gold. Geriatricians and other providers who work primarily with older adults understand the natural effects of aging.  

To understand the role of these specialists a bit better, let’s consider medications in the elderly.

Many older adults take multiple medications each day to treat a number of conditions. As you age, your body might not clear drugs from your system the way it once did when you were younger. Specialized care practitioners understand these types of issues and can help older patients decide which medicines and treatments are necessary.

Due to the cost of long-term care facilities, many older adults live at home or move in with family. This leaves a lot of at-home caregivers with a mighty full-time responsibility, and oftentimes these caregivers would benefit from access to professional support.

Unfortunately, we simply don’t have enough geriatricians in the U.S.

Senior Related Article:  The Benefits of Integrated Care for Aging Patients

Exploring Other Options

If you’re making healthcare decisions for yourself or a loved one, one afternoon with a stack of medical bills can have you wondering about the long term effects of medical debt. The cost of healthcare alone leaves many families wondering if there are other options to care that can save cost while also providing a loved one with the necessary comprehensive care. Here are a few things to know about the future. 

  • Calling in the nurses

The healthcare industry has called on nurses to step up to the plate to help alleviate the shortage of physicians and the high cost of healthcare delivery. Nurses who enjoy hands-on care, but are ready for more autonomy might start questioning how to become a nurse practitioner.  They are met with many options, like online programs that can allow them to continue working while in school. Nurse practitioners can specialize in the care of the elderly to provide holistic care aimed at the unique needs of seniors.

  • Aging in place

Many elderly are choosing to live at home, rather than spend their last days in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or rehabilitation centers. Hiring direct care providers or accessing services such as home health or visiting physicians in some areas of the country might be an excellent alternative to the shortages happening in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

  • Technology for seniors

Technology isn’t just for young people. The use of apps and technologically-advanced devices can help keep seniors healthy and independent longer. If getting around is challenging, finding physicians who can do telehealth visits or other types of remote monitoring of long term conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure can increase independence and quality of life.

Some smart home tech can make life better for the elderly, too. Cameras and smart doorbells let them see who is around their home. Many of these devices connect directly to the local emergency response system so that they can easily call for help if needed. Both of these innovations increase seniors’ sense of safety and security. 

Senior Related Article:  How Home Security Cameras Can Help with Senior Care

Looking to the Future

Healthcare is embracing innovation and new care models daily. Facilities and decision-makers are also looking for ways to encourage young people to explore the many professions in healthcare that are required to meet the needs of the aging.

If you’re caring for a senior with healthcare needs, explore a few of these options to find the best care model for you and your loved one.

Jori Hamilton


Jori Hamilton is a late twenty's freelance writer residing in Portland, Oregon. Coming from a marketing background, Jori took interest in blogging and content marketing and found a particular interest in healthcare and data science.

With eight plus years of writing experience, she decided to jump fully into a freelance writing career. This gave her the opportunity to write even more content on other subjects that mattered to her, including education, politics, technology, and the environment.

Jori has contributed to Life As A Human, Tuck Magazine, Clinician Today, Girl Talk HQ, and a number of other great publications.

If she's not writing, you can find her exploring beautiful downtown Portland or curled up in a blanket, reading a good book. You can follow her on LinkedIn.


  • Thanks for pointing out that the need for specialist is something that should also be considered when getting elderly home care services. It’s a good thing that my grandmother doesn’t have much health complications aside from her worsening knees. Having someone to support her when moving from one place to another would be enough of an assistance for her daily life.

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