The segment of senior care that focuses on memory care, dementia, and Alzheimer’s is a fast-growing one due to a number of factors. Even as research pushes forward towards more effective treatments, there remains a high need for trained, compassionate professionals to care for patients and to manage the complex administrative situations of this niche. Here’s what to keep in mind as the field evolves.
Research Brings Promise, But No Promises Yet
For decades, top scientists have been working to figure out how best to address memory-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s, often with mixed results. Many pharmaceutical interventions have come with high price tags, controversy, and inconsistent results. In 2022, a scandal rocked the research community when one of the most-cited studies on a top theory of Alzheimer’s saw its conclusions flagged as potentially altered (though the actual impact on current research is still unclear).
Today, researchers dive deep into the multifaceted, long-term, and complex nature of the disease, attempting to address the tangled web of precursors and causes while also addressing underlying inequities in research and care. One prospective breakthrough, for instance, is the FDA approval of a drug called lecanemab, which is intended to target the amyloid protein linked to the progression of the disease – but comes with its own side effects.
Alzheimer’s and dementia remain incredibly costly, not just in terms of health and emotional tolls, but in terms of economic impact too. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that the diseases will cost Americans $345 billion in 2023, and by 2050, those costs could rise to nearly $1 trillion. This means enormous opportunities for growth in the memory care field, but also significant stressors as the sector expands to meet these demands.
Growth in the Memory Care Sector
As the population ages, the demand for senior care and, specifically, memory care is increasing too. Analysis from Grand View Research notes that the U.S. memory care market size was valued at USD 5.82 billion in 2022, and it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1% over the period from 2023 to 2030.
This is in line with other statistics that show an aging world population in general. According to the World Health Organization, 1/6 of the world population will be at or over the age of 60 by the year 2030; between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years of age will likely increase from 12% to 22%. As these individuals get older, the likelihood increases that they will need specialized memory care. In order to properly care for these individuals in the coming years and decades, it’s important for the sector to start planning and growing now, so that the support is in place as more people need to rely on it.
Challenges in Staffing
Despite ongoing research, it still may not be enough to assist all the patients who need it. By 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to reach almost 13 million, and as many as 20 states have been identified by the Alzheimer’s Association as care “deserts,” where there is a severe shortage of specialized doctors, caregivers, and other personnel.
In many of these areas, shortages can be attributed to a combination of factors: inconvenient or less-desirable locations; inadequate (or simply less-competitive) pay; a smaller local support network, or other factors. Additionally, specialties like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and memory care are notable for being high-stress and taking an emotional toll on care professionals. Finding committed, experienced professionals with the bandwidth to take on a new position and whose salary and lifestyle expectations line up with what a particular role offers can be challenging.
Organizations can work to find ways to offset some of these concerns and attract top talent. Having a strong emphasis on teamwork – and on adequate staffing levels at all times – can be critical for addressing concerns over burnout. Individuals are more likely to take on a job, even a stressful one, when they know that there’s coverage available when they need it and that there are policies in place to help them achieve work-life balance. If your organization needs to staff in a challenging region, it can be helpful to “sell” candidates on the area by emphasizing factors like lower cost of living, easier commutes, closer-knit communities, and other aspects.
Memory care is a critical component of senior care, and it’s one that keeps changing with shifts in demographics and new research. To successfully provide the best care possible, organizations must plan now to build the staff and infrastructure necessary for handling growth, with a focus on ensuring that employees and patients alike have the support they need at every level.
By Tom Zeleny, NHA