Caring for boomers: It’s some hard math

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Monday, Dec 17, 2007 – 10:40 AM

Who will take care of baby boomers when they need help? The numbers don’t seem to add up.

By 2011, the 65-and-older population will be growing faster than the overall population. According to the U.S. census, the 65-plus population is projected to rise 147 percent between 2000 and 2050, while the population as a whole could grow 49 percent. By 2030, about one in five Americans will be 65 or older.

By 2020, there will be a shortage of 20,000 registered nurses and 1,500 physicians in Virginia, according to Dr. Richard W. Lindsay, former head of the division of geriatrics at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center.

Lindsay also said a decreasing number of medical school graduates are going into family practice, instead choosing specialties. Fewer primary-care physicians in the coming years could become a knotty problem as aging boomers develop chronic health conditions and require more medical care.

Already, almost one-third of the 78 million boomers are single heads of households “” 12 percent never married, 16 percent are divorced or separated, and 4 percent are widowed, said Matt Thornhill, founder of the Richmond-based Boomer Project, a marketing research firm.

“Who’s going to care for them?” Thornhill asked this week at the kickoff meeting of the Older Dominion Project, a long-range strategic venture aimed at helping Virginia prepare for the coming “age wave” of boomers.

“We think boomers are going to find ways to co-habitate to take care of each other,” Thornhill said. “There’s not going to be anybody else to do it.”

He said one emerging option is co-housing, which combines the advantage of private homes with the benefits of “more sustainable living, including shared common facilities and ongoing connections with neighbors,” according to the Cohousing Association of the United States ( Thornhill described it as “a modern-day version of communes.”

“Maybe eight or 10 houses around a center house that’s a meeting area and is multigenerational,” he said. “They may not all own cars, may share a meal once or twice a week in the main house.”

He said the co-housing concept has caught on in Europe and is spreading to the United States, including places in Virginia such as Northern Virginia, Charlottesville and Blacksburg.

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