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Healthy Aging for Healthcare Workers

As American workers hold off retirement and stay employed longer, their need to remain physically capable takes on even greater importance. According to Department of Labor statistics, by 2050, more than 19.6 million American workers will be 65 years or older. This number represents almost 19% of the total U.S. workforce. For those in the healthcare industry, these statistics present even greater challenges in the near term.
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As American workers hold off retirement and stay employed longer, their need to remain physically capable takes on even greater importance.  According to Department of Labor (DOL) statistics, by 2050, more than 19.6 million American workers will be 65 years or older.  This number represents almost 19 percent of the total U.S. workforce.  For those in the healthcare industry, these statistics present even greater challenges in the near term.  Today, the health care workforce is already older than that found in other employment sectors, with the average age of a nurse in the U.S. at 50 years old and more than 25% of all physicians are at least 60 years of age.  In contrast, studies show that the average age of Occupational and Physical Therapists is around 40 years old.  The DOL study referenced above states that by 2020, nearly half of all registered nurses will be at the traditional retirement age.

There are unique challenges presented by an aging population working longer and being treated by an aging health care population.  Employers will need to adjust both their workplace practices and their care strategies to protect and retain these valuable employees.  One thing to look for will be a continued trend toward team-oriented approaches to organizing tasks within the health care setting.  Improvements in design and ergonomics will further ease the physical toll on health care workers.  Other workplace improvements will be regarding how supplies are stored in proximity to patient locations to reduce the distances that workers are moving to retrieve necessary items.  Another critical technique will be improving the amount of time it takes to bring new workers up to speed, thereby lessening the “knowledge” weight being carried by seasoned workers.

In addition to the attention that needs to be placed on helping the aging workforce by employers, it is equally important for employees to make an effort towards preparing themselves physically and mentally for working longer. 

The best place to start in preparing yourself for a prolonged career is to learn about creating balance in your life.  Health is more than a physical state; it includes your emotional, spiritual, intellectual and personal state of being.  Each of these states of being contributes to your overall health.  Begin by making better decisions about your health.  Choose to live a tobacco-free life and focus on eating better, more nutritious meals.  Keep your promise of remaining physically active through sports, yoga, or other favorite activities.  Find the sources of stress in your life and develop a plan to manage them responsibly, seek help when necessary.  Stay active socially through spending quality time with friends and loved ones, create this all-important balance between work and home life.

Have you ever wondered how your health risks and wellness plan compares to other nurses nationwide?  The American Nurses Association (ANA) offers an HIPAA-compliant health risk appraisal (HRA) providing real-time data on both personal and professional health, safety and wellness.  Take the HRA by visiting www.anahra.org and compare your results to national averages.

With the month of September being recognized as National Healthy Aging® Month, use the opportunity to assess your state of wellness and take those first steps towards improving your personal health and prolonging your professional career.