The Future of Senior Care Careers Post-Pandemic
Seniors were greatly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were the age range most at risk of hospitalization and death, and senior living communities and healthcare workers had to take extreme measures to ensure that the elders in their care were safe. Unfortunately, it meant an unprecedented level of isolation for their patients.
According to a University of Michigan study from June 2020, about 56% of senior respondents said they felt isolated. That’s about double the number of seniors in 2018 who said they felt isolated, which was about 27%. That increasingly high number is troubling because the feelings of loneliness and disconnection from families, friends, and community can take a toll on an older adult’s mental and physical health in a number of different ways. For example, the CDC reports that seniors who feel lonely are 50% more at risk for dementia, have a 29% increased risk for heart disease, and are 32% more likely to experience a stroke.
While it is too soon to say what they are, it’s clear that the aftereffects of COVID isolation may have far-reaching consequences for seniors. Older adults who have been in isolation over the last year or more may have developed loneliness-related health complications, and may now need specialized care. Plus, baby boomers, who represent the largest part of the population, will be aging together. The needs of this population are unique, as baby boomers, as a whole, desire options and freedom from a senior living experience.
Health and senior care workers who can position themselves now to meet the needs of older adults in the near future may find that their skills are sought after over the next few years.
Senior Living Industry Jobs on the Rise
The last year has been intense for senior care workers. The demand for senior care professionals will continue to be high, as the baby boomer population starts transitioning into continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), assisted living, independent living, and retirement communities.
Baby boomer retirements have accelerated since the pandemic, with almost 29 million out of the workforce — and potentially in search of senior living — by the third quarter of 2020. That accounts for over 3 million more retirements than the previous year. And, as the large portion of the population continues to age, the need for assisted living is likely to grow.
The following occupations are expected to grow in demand over the next few years:
Executive Senior Living Director
Executive senior living directors manage a facility’s finances, resident and employee relations, and the overall operations. The average wage for this position was $73.300 per year as of 2019, according to McKnight’s Long Term Care News.
According to the report, some directors were promoted from within, while others were recruited from other facilities across the country. To become an executive senior living director, an MBA in healthcare management could be a good educational track to follow.
Geriatric Social Worker
A geriatric social worker provides therapy, support, and counseling to older adults. As noted, more than half of older adults polled stated they felt isolated during COVID-19. Counseling may be higher in demand post-pandemic to overcome the sense of loneliness experienced by this population.
In general, geriatric social workers earn an average wage of about $35 per hour, or $71,076 per year. A home health medical social worker typically earns an average wage of about $62,348 per year, but some social work salaries can reach the low six figures. Higher salaries are more common when you specialize and earn a master’s in social work.
Audiologists diagnose, manage, and treat a person’s ear or hearing problems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that most audiologists are employed in healthcare facilities. However, some senior living facilities may have an in-house audiologist.
Overall, the BLS reports that the career field for audiologists is in high demand with an expected job growth of about 13% through 2029, which is faster than the national average for all jobs. To become an audiologist, a doctoral degree is needed. Most states also require licensing.
On average, audiologists earned about $81,030 per year as of 2020, according to the BLS, and about 1,800 new jobs in the field are projected to be added through 2029.
Occupational therapists work to treat patients suffering from disabilities, illnesses, or injuries. Job growth for occupational therapists is expected to accelerate over the next few years. According to the BLS, the median pay for audiologists was about $86,280 per year as of 2020, and the field has a projected job growth of about 16% through 2029.
The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends taking a “productive aging” career track to those interested in working with aging adults. OT students can specialize in areas such as dementia, speech pathology, chronic conditions, mental health, fall prevention, and other senior-related concentrations so they are fully educated on how to care for their patients.
Registered nurses earned an average wage of about $75.330 per year as of 2020. Taking your education beyond a bachelor’s degree in nursing to earn a master’s in science in nursing can greatly improve an RN’s job prospects and wages.
According to the BLS, job growth for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with master’s degrees in nursing is expected to grow by a whopping 45% through 2029. The average wage for specialized nurses with master’s degrees in the field is much higher, too. These nurses earned, on average, about $117,670 as of 2020. And, the average salary could grow in the near future. The great demand for APRNs means salaries are likely to increase as senior living facilities and health care centers compete to recruit APRNs.
Future Trends in Senior Care
The changing demographics in senior care, which led by the baby boomer generation, is bound to change the way seniors care works. By 2030, all baby boomers — an estimated 73 million — will be 65 or older. The current and future retired population’s needs are different from previous generations.
The following post-COVID trends may be what older adults expect over the next few years:
Creating More Community-Focused Care
The isolation that all age groups experienced as they socially distanced during COVID-19 created an intense demand for community.
“People want to get back to regular life. Seniors have felt isolated, many of them have declined from withdrawing from the world for a year,” Lindsay Garland, RN, said.
Senior living directors, social workers, and senior care specialists all play an important role in ensuring that senior living facilities provide a welcome, social environment filled with opportunities for older adults to come together and mingle openly.
Growing Use of Technology
Baby boomers have embraced technology. A report on baby boomers and tech found that 77% of the older demographic are comfortable trying new tech. In addition, the use of telemedicine shot up during COVID by about 469%, with nearly half of baby boomers utilizing at least one telehealth appointment.
“The desire to learn technology will continue now that certain stereotypes have pushed,” Abbie Richie, founder of Senior Savvy, a company that provides tech support to older adults, said.
Tech officers and telemedicine specialists can capitalize on the technology trend over the next few years by providing tech services to retired adults. “Remote tech support rather than our traditional in-person model” may continue to be popular in the future, according to Richie.
Providing More Options
The retired adults of today and the next decade are highly interested in the latest and greatest. They enjoy trying a number of new things. They are also more conscious of their health than past generations. For example, Food and Wine Magazine noted in 2016 that the “clean eating” trend is driven by the baby boomer generation.
What that means is that nutrition specialists, chefs, cooks that specialize in gourmet food and wine, and creative individuals who would enjoy keeping the new generation of retired seniors engaged could have a place in senior care of the future.
Keeping Adults Active
An Australian study found that boomers are the most active age group. They enjoy trying new things and prefer to remain engaged over sitting around watching TV, which means that a senior care specialist who focuses on keeping seniors active is likely to be sought after.
Personal trainers specializing in older adult fitness, holistic trainers who specialize in areas such as yoga or pilates, or senior living activities administrators could all be in high demand in the near future. With the continued activity comes the risk of injury or overexertion — which means that physical and occupational therapists will be needed.
Is a Career in Senior Care Right for You?
If a senior care career sounds interesting, the next factor to consider is whether it’s the right fit for you. Working with older adults can be incredibly rewarding, but it is also challenging. Having the following traits would help you succeed in the field.
Working with seniors who are at varying stages of dementia or other limitations requires you to be flexible and able to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.
“Dementia care is a specialty. An upbeat personality and a team player are essential because things can be unpredictable with patients. You have to think on your feet, know the best course of action and have to go with the flow because there are always things that are happening,” Graham said.
Older adults generally operate at a slower pace, as their thinking and motor skills are not what they used to be. Senior care workers need to have — or develop — patience. Workers who excel at showing patience do best in the field.
Although your work schedule may be busy, it is important to slow down for your patients. Speaking slowly may be required so a senior can hear you or understand what you are saying. You may have to explain things more than once, and it takes patience to ensure that your communication skills are meeting your patient needs.
Caring is the foundation of the senior care field. Older adults struggle with decreased motor skills and other health limitations. You may not know what they are going through but a good worker can empathize to understand them better.
Riley Anderson, a representative at Maplewood Senior Living, points to the company’s motto when in search of new staff: “Our emotion-based philosophy, HEART, is part of an unwavering commitment to bringing an exceptional standard of care and compassion to residents and families. Each and every associate is trained on this philosophy.”
Working with older adults requires you to offer a high level of connection. The way you communicate and interact can set you apart from others. In many cases, physical contact and small signs of affection, such as holding someone’s hand, are part of the job when you work with older adults.
Individuals with strong interpersonal skills do well in the field, as they build trust and connections with elderly patients who may not see their loved ones as often as they would like, or may have lost their life partner.
Having strong interpersonal skills does not mean you have to be assertive and outgoing. Shy or reserved individuals can still excel if they are willing to step out of their comfort zone to connect with patients.
Critical thinking skills are essential when working in senior care. In many cases, the aging adult in your care is unable to properly communicate what they are thinking or feeling. You will need to pick up on small clues to understand what is happening to troubleshoot.
If you enjoy solving mysteries or understanding people and concepts on a deeper level, you could be a good fit for a career in senior care. Your powers of observation and deduction will serve you well in this field.
There is no better time to have an interest in working with older adults. The nation will soon have a large number of seniors as the baby boomer population of 76 million hits retirement age. Today’s seniors are different from last decade’s. Post-pandemic demand for employees in a number of fields related to healthcare, facility administration, senior lifestyle, and tech is expected to be high.
The high demand for different types of employees in this field means that it’s a great time to pursue a career as a senior care specialist in some form or fashion. Ultimately, though, the key to unlocking the most in-demand careers in this field is specialization. You can more easily present yourself as a well-rounded professional when you pursue a master’s degree in areas such dementia, geriatric care, and chronic illness, or another related field.
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