The risks — and opportunities — of Minnesota’s aging population
Older adults possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, which can be leveraged through mentoring programs, part-time employment, and volunteer opportunities to contribute to the vitality of our communities. Photo by Getty Images
Minnesota’s population is rapidly aging. According to data from the 2020 Census, the number of Minnesotans aged 65 and above increased from about 683,000 in 2010 to nearly 950,000 in 2020, now accounting for almost 17% of the state’s population compared to about 13% in 2010. This surge is primarily driven by the aging of the Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964. This trend is projected to continue: one in five Minnesotans will be 65 or older in the next decade.
As individuals age, the risks of chronic diseases, disability and declining mental health also increase, impacting the quality of life for many older adults. The World Health Organization has adopted the concept of “healthy aging” to address these aging-related challenges. According to a 2015 WHO report, healthy aging refers to the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.
In the face of the demographic shift and the promotion of healthy aging, Minnesota grapples with significant challenges for families, communities and society, with diverse aging cultures and traditions.
A key challenge will be increasing demand for health care and long-term care. Ensuring access to affordable and quality health care is necessary for healthy aging.
The health care workforce shortage is a growing concern in Minnesota, with demand rising alongside the aging population, exacerbated by the pandemic. According to a University of Minnesota report, 6.5% of direct health care workers left the labor market in 2021, and 40% transitioned to other occupations between January 2019 and December 2021. Minnesota nursing homes reported the most significant staffing shortages in the country in 2022. It is crucial to improve training programs and recruitment efforts to address these shortages so we can maintain high-quality health care for seniors.
The demand for family caregivers is also rising, with spouses, adult children, relatives and friends typically taking on these roles. It’s important to recognize the hidden costs and dual burdens associated with family caregiving, as caregivers often experience their own physical and mental health issues, affecting their overall well-being. Therefore, supporting family caregivers, including training sessions and consulting services, is essential for an aging population.
Financial security is another major concern, especially in light of recent higher inflation impacting savings and fixed incomes. In September 2023, the Consumer Price Index increased by 3.7% compared to the same month in the previous year, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure remains significantly higher than the Fed’s inflation target of 2%. As a result, ensuring affordable access to prescription medications, health care services, and other essentials is crucial for older adults to achieve financial security and maintain healthy aging. Enhancing financial literacy programs and education can benefit seniors as they manage their financial situations during aging and retirement.
Seniors are prone to experiencing loneliness and a lack of social connections, particularly when living alone. This isolation can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression among older adults and carry other health risks, as well. However, our recent study has demonstrated that emotional support from adult children — phone calls, letters, emails, or social media — can significantly improve the quality of life for older parents. This intergenerational emotional support can lead to increased life satisfaction, irrespective of different cultural norms. Furthermore, it’s imperative to promote and develop community-based initiatives that foster social engagement and inclusion among aging adults.
We need not view our aging demographic as merely a burden, however. It gives us the opportunity to focus on creating age-friendly and inclusive communities. These communities are designed to offer seniors comfortable, active and independent living environments. By investing in accessible public transportation, age-appropriate housing, and a range of social and recreational opportunities tailored for older residents, the state can create settings that meet the needs of its aging population. This benefits people of all age groups and also generates new job opportunities.
Meanwhile, older adults possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, which can be leveraged through mentoring programs, part-time employment, and volunteer opportunities to contribute to the vitality of our communities. In turn, enhancing social connections among older adults and fostering their active engagement further benefits their overall health and well-being.
In nearly every culture across time and place, our elders are honored for their sacrifice and wisdom. Minnesota should be no different.
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