“You’ll never solve a big problem with small thinking!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Going forward, one of the most significant challenges of our time will have to do with senior care. With that in mind, big thinking was the core of my message on stage six years ago (yesterday) for two back-to-back talks in Nashville for senior executives from the North American assisted living and seniors care industry. I was booked by the American Healthcare Organization and the Centre for Assisted Living and took a look at the opportunities that come from innovative thinking in dealing with one of society’s most intractable challenges.
Looking back, it’s pretty clear that this industry faced the most significant, devastating challenge throughout Covid, and was ill-equipped to do so – big thinking is required more than ever before! We all know that in Western nations and mature Asian countries, the seniors care challenge is massive. And with longer life expectancy, we are dealing with a reality in which the challenge of Alzheimer’s care for these seniors will go on for much longer periods of time.
In my keynote, I jumped right into the “scope” issue. Consider the reality:
- in the US, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is set to triple to 16 million by 2050
- the typical Alzheimer patient is disabled for 9 to 20 years – and this will increase to 40- to 50 years as medical advances continue and life expectancy continues to grow
- we are spending $172 billion a year in treatment – and that is set to grow to $1.08 trillion by 2050 given the growth in the number of cases, and the impact of longevity
- there is a lot of family caregiving that is involved; as the St. Louis Dispatch noted, “Boomers may be spending more years caring for an aging parent than a child”
- and the challenge shows no end in sight: “40% of people over the age of 80 are suffering from dementia – there will be a million new cases a year by 2050”
Put these facts into the context of the reality of what is occurring in the world of seniors care today:
- an ongoing massive ramp-up in demand with a shortfall in available and planned units
- a funding crisis with plunging investment/housing values, and state, federal, and municipal tax deficits
- ongoing skills and staffing issues
- increasing scrutiny in the public eye
- heightened expectations on quality of service from the boomer generation
I emphasized those points on stage six years ago – look at what happened with that reality with Covid!
That’s why one of the first points I emphasized is what I often do in my keynotes: “World-class innovators aren’t afraid of thinking boldly!” Simply put, we have a huge problem, and society and government need some pretty bold thinking when it comes to solutions. How is society going to care for, in a respectful way, an increasing number of seniors living with a very complex disease? How can we help the caregivers to give better care?
Big thinking? Watch my comments in the video below — recorded in front of 3,000 people at the annual National Recreation and Parks Association annual conference in Salt Lake City in 2009. Could we really be headed to a world in which we are going to utilize a lot of technology and innovation to help us deal with a very real and significant challenge – that is, dealing with the tsunami of caregiving that will be required in the world of seniors care?
I truly believe that we live in a period of great transformation and that people must challenge themselves to think boldly when it comes to innovation. Hence, the innovation opportunity comes from “thinking big” – accelerating our efforts with community care, aging-in-place technology, the acceleration of medical brain research and science, and so much more.
Covid has made clear that we are failing our seniors.
Will the industry – and society – step up to the challenge?