America’s senior population is projected to double over the next 30 years, reports the U.S. Census Bureau, ballooning from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.

The problem is that population bubbles tend to hit all at once. The Baby Boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, will be between ages 53 and 71 this year and will be looking toward services that might not be prepared to handle the surge of business.

“There are some challenges that come with the dramatic increase in the aging population, but in certain segments of the economy it will be a huge benefit. I think with purposeful city planning, management of resources, and preventative measures, communities will be able to meet the needs of the growing elderly population,” said James Krehbiel, president and CEO of Bluestem Communities.

Bluestem Communities manages Bluestem PACE in McPherson, Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton and Schowalter Villa in Hesston.

What’s coming

The Population Reference Bureau’s 2016 report, "Aging in the United States," examines trends occurring among adults ages 65 and older.

The report shows that the aging of the Baby Boomers could fuel a 75 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 2.3 million in 2030 from 1.3 million in 2010. This number could also be affected by the increasing number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could nearly triple by 2050 to 14 million, from 5 million in 2013.

With these dramatic increases, providers worry that programs like Medicare and Medicaid won’t be able to cover costs.

“The challenge is that even though there is a huge increase in the over 75 age group, a large portion of these people have very little savings,” said Carma Wall, CEO of The Cedars in McPherson. “At the same time, the state Medicaid program has pulled back on payments. A year ago, we were able to get payment within three months after a person applied for Medicaid. The waiting period is now closer to a year and we have to reapply numerous times before they will accept our application.”

Budget cuts to Medicare and Medicaid programs, both nationally and in Kansas, concern aging residents, but another study shows some programs might do better in McPherson County.

In its third annual study financial technology company SmartAsset ranked McPherson County in the top ten places in Kansas where residents are getting the most from Social Security. McPherson County ranked fourth, behind Harvey, Stevens and Jackson Counties.

SmartAsset analyzed Social Security income, cost of living data, and taxes across all counties in Kansas. McPherson County’s low cost of living at $18,351 surpasses the state average of $17,911, so residents benefit from the average annual Social Security income of $19,895, which beats the state average of $17,470.

Planning ahead

Providers are finding ways to handle current challenges by redirecting their practices to new services. Diversifying the market has proven useful in relieving the burdens on more traditional services so demand can shift to new areas with adequate capacity.

“With Bluestem PACE, we can provide seniors with day services as well as highly-coordinated, all-inclusive medical care, while program participants continue to live in their homes. Compared to traditional long-term care, PACE is able to provide medical care to triple the number of seniors with less capital expenses,” Krehbiel said. “Independent living neighborhoods in life plan communities are also growing and have a big benefit to seniors with maintenance-free living. Research has shown that when seniors move to an independent living neighborhood they are able to stay in their home for three to five years longer than if they stayed at their previous residence.”

The Population Reference Bureau reports that older adults are working longer, partly due to increased life expectancy, so they may not need intensive health care services right away. In 2014, 23 percent of men and 15 percent of women ages 65 and older were in the labor force, and these levels are projected to rise to 27 percent for men and 20 percent for women by 2022.

As this continues to increase, residents can use that time to plan ahead and make the most of their later years.

“It is better to talk about things when you are in good health; this way you are able to think clearly and aren’t rushed,” Krehbiel said. “Long-term care insurance and advanced directives are aspects that people need to think about early on and be proactive about. Even people in the 20s and 30s should start planning and saving for retirement. It is never too early.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.