In recent weeks, NBC Nightly News has begun a series of reports entitled "Trading Places: Caring for your Parents." The series began with the personal stories of NBC reporters like Brian Williams, Tim Russert, and Ann Curry, each of whom is dealing with an increasingly common question: what should I do with my aging parents? Baby boomers are beginning to experience sleepless nights as they worry about their mothers and fathers, and legislators should start to worry, too. The fact is that eldercare is already a national problem, and soon will become a national crisis.
The plight of elderly Americans is a top concern for the Center for a Just Society because this population is at significant risk of abuse and neglect. In my law practice, I have spent decades representing elderly men and women who have endured unspeakable nursing home abuse and neglect. Avoidable pressure ulcers, falls, fractures, infections, malnutrition, dehydration—all are common problems among the institutionalized elderly. Short staffing characterizes the operation of too many nursing homes and many corporate predators operating facilities put profits over people and revenue over residents. The care of the institutionalized elderly is becoming a national disgrace. If these conditions prevailed at Abu Ghraib or in our nation's daycare centers, members of both parties would be foaming at the mouth, calling for reform. However, because the abused and neglected victims are elderly and frequently "out of sight," the problem is all too often ignored.
As I have written in the past, three factors will soon place aging Americans at even greater risk in long term care facilities. Those factors are demographic, economic, and cultural.
Demographics: In the next thirty years, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to double. More specifically, there will be an 83% increase in the number of men and women between the ages of 65-74. There will be an 119% increase in those aged 75-84, and there will be a whopping 143% increase in people older than eighty-five! A majority of these men and women will require long term care. Because most Americans are having fewer children, there will be far fewer young people around to take care of the older generation. Therefore, the demand for institutional care will rise sharply. Today there are 16.5 million people living in nursing homes; by the year 2035 that number is expected to double.