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Story ideas: Hot topics in the business of aging

As baby boomers age, they become the target for industries ranging from health care to dietary supplements, and also an important business topic for financial reporters. Currently more than 5.7 million Americans, or 18.5 percent of the population, are older than age 60, according to 2010 Census data.

Panelists discuss the business of aging at the 2012 SABEW conference in Indianapolis.

During a session on the business of aging at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Annual Conference, a panel of experts detailed hot trends that reporters should have on their radar. The conference, which brings together business journalists and industry experts, was held March 15-17 in Indianapolis.

The session’s panelists include Paul LaPorte, a regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lori Bitter, an expert on marketing and the economics of baby boomers, Carla Penny, a member of the American Association of Retired Persons’ National Policy Council, and Malaz Boustani, associate director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.  The discussion was moderated by John Wasik, an award-winning business columnist.

Here are a few highlights from the panel discussion:

Many baby boomers are retiring at a younger age because of the economic crisis. This can threaten their economic security  later in life – Carla Penny:  Early retirement is typically taken at age 62, and after retirement many people rely on Social Security. This decreases retirees’ lifetime benefits. Older widows, who live alone on their spouses’ Social Security, are a central concern. Also, taking early retirement is particularly hard for baby boomers, because they need to use their social security benefits to support themselves, as well as their long-living parents.

Caregivers play a vital part in the business of aging –  Lori Bitter: Caring for family members results in a significant  loss of productivity. There are currently 65 million U.S. caregivers, which results in lost wages of about $3 trillion for families in pensions and Social Security. Bitter also said there are not enough caregivers for the rising number of aging baby boomers.

Electronic devices are not a perfect substitute for family caregivers - Lori Bitter:  Devices are available to help seniors monitor their blood pressure, food intake and weight. The electronic tools comprise a significant marketplace. General Electric and Intel have emerged as two pioneers in researching and developing these virtual health systems. However, finding a way for seniors to afford the devices is a challenge. If the government is not ready to subsidize, the devices are typically too expensive for individuals to purchase. Also, compliance with the device is another challenge. On average, the devices are not used for a long time and as a patient heals, the monitor device is often returned.

Thirty million people over age 55 years are now employed. The number of working seniors will continue to grow - Paul LaPorte: Labor force participation, consisting of those who are employed or actively looking for a job, for Americans age 55 and over has trended upward since 1993. The rate is currently about 40 percent and the number could continue to grown in the future.  Reasons for the growth include the need for income and increased life expectancy.

Delirium has a significant impact on the U.S. health care system – Malaz Boustani:  Delirium is a confusion syndrome, which is common among hospitalized patients with an episode of acute illness. More than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffer from the disease every year, which costs the health care system between $38 billion to $152 billion annually.

Health care system is moving to accountable care - Malaz Boustani:  Hospitalists can no longer make money simply by offering a service, they need to create a value for the service, and take care of a panel of people related to the patient and the disease. To survive in the health care system, hospitalists need to balance serving the patient, and simultaneously serving the entire patient population. Also, the concept of “who’s the patient” is different. Patients now include the sick person, as well as their family. Hospitalists should take care of them all.

Additional resources for covering the business of aging:

About the Author

Tian Chen graduated from The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China, with a business degree in July 2011. A month later, she traveled to Phoenix to further her study in business journalism at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is now a graduate assistant at the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

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