The 2030 Problem: Getting Chiropractors Involved in Geriatric Care
Who are the patients of chiropractic? According to several studies on the subject, a consistent majority are women between the ages of 45 and 64 who are seeking treatment for low back pain. But due to the rapidly retiring numbers of Baby Boomers, chiropractors may become instrumental in caring for a different demographic: seniors. Declining ease of access to healthcare and a growing shortage of physicians have retirees and soon-to-be-retirees concerned about their health as they age, and chiropractic is perfectly poised to help.
What Is the 2030 Problem?
The Baby Boomer generation has that name for a reason. In the years following World War II, more babies were born than ever before: in 1946, the number was 3.4 million, a full 20% more than in 1945. By 1964, Baby Boomers made up 40% of the total United States population. Raising a humongous number of children in the 1950s and 60s was a challenge for public infrastructure such as schools, public recreation spaces, and housing. However, the post-war economy, fueled in part by new large-scale production capabilities and a consumerist drive to match, enabled this gigantic generation to prosper through comfortable childhoods and numerous opportunities.
Today, we’re once again facing the problem of providing sufficient support to Baby Boomers, but we may be more poorly equipped to address it. As of 2011, Boomers began reaching the traditional retirement age of 65, and since have been retiring at a rate of 10,000 people every day. The 2030 Problem refers to the astonishing fact that, by 2030, one in five people in the US will be over the age of 65, and declining access to healthcare means that there is not enough infrastructure to support this influx of retirees.
What Can Chiropractors Do?
There are two prongs when it comes to the health of our retirees. On the one hand, average life expectancy in the United States fell in 2016, from 78.7 to 78.6. On the other, centenarians are becoming more common, their numbers rising almost 44% in 15 years, and their mortality rate has been decreasing. This struggle between providing adequate healthcare for the aging and addressing the needs of the very aged is made more severe by the growing shortage of primary care physicians, surgeons, and specialized geriatricians. Where can retirees turn for their healthcare?
Many treatments already offered by chiropractors are well-suited for treating seniors and the diseases and conditions that commonly afflict them. Here are a few ways that chiropractic medicine can help address the geriatric healthcare shortage:
Treat Low Back Pain
In a study of the prevalence of back pain in older adults, 6% of seniors aged 75 and older had disabling back pain, and 23% had non-disabling back pain, with evidence for increased risk of back pain becoming disabling as age increased. As with all healthcare, prevention is the best medicine for retirees, and keeping retirees independent and able to care for themselves is a vital strategy for managing healthcare access. Therefore, it’s vital that back pain be addressed early.
If there’s one thing that chiropractors are known to excel at, it’s the treatment of spinal conditions. Chiropractors can and should shoulder a significant portion of the responsibility for treating low back pain in retirees with the treatments already at their disposal: manual adjustments, spinal decompression therapy, therapeutic exercise, and more.
Provide Nutrition and Exercise Counseling
As the human body ages, changes occur that make it more difficult for older adults to maintain muscle mass, bone density, and keep up a healthy immune system. Many chiropractic offices offer nutrition counseling and therapeutic exercise as part of their treatment plans, but for seniors, such services may be in demand as stand-alone offerings. While nutrition and exercise advice is plentiful online and from family and friends, nothing is more valuable to a patient than discussing their unique needs with a healthcare professional that knows their health, medication, and activity backgrounds.
Work Towards Fall Prevention
For seniors, falling is no laughing matter. Approximately 27,000 seniors die every year from falling, and non-fatal falls have serious long-term consequences such as decreased mobility, reduced independence, trauma, and financial crisis due to medical bills from long hospital stays, surgeries, and medications. Fall prevention is a huge aspect of geriatric care, and chiropractic offices have the capabilities to offer everything a retiree needs. Rather than visiting physical therapists, general practitioners, nutritionists, and other specialists separately, chiropractors can work with their patients on a complete treatment course tailored for fall prevention. This may include an exercise routine of balance and core strengthening workouts, vitamin D-rich diets to promote strong bones, pain prevention and treatment, and more.
Offer Nonpharmacologic Treatments
The top causes of death in the US have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic, noncommunicable diseases, leading to the rise and the challenge of comorbidity in seniors. Managing and treating two or more chronic diseases in the same patient requires extreme care, as medications and treatments may contraindicate one another. This shift in the healthcare paradigm, as well as the opioid crisis that has ravaged the US population, points to a need for nonpharmacologic treatments for pain. As practitioners of holistic medicines, chiropractors understand the value of first attempting noninvasive and nondrug treatments before turning to high-risk treatments. Seniors, for whom sedatives and surgery can be particularly dangerous, have much to gain from chiropractic services.
By the year 2030, the United States will have a larger population of retirees than ever before, and our current healthcare system is already feeling the strain. By getting chiropractors more involved in treating our seniors, we open up care options that will help alleviate strain, improve health, and strengthen our society.