Minnesota’s state demographer Tom Gillaspy posed this tongue-in-cheek question early on in his presentation to a room full of leaders at the Aging Services of Minnesota Annual Meeting in September. Of course we all know the answer – we’ve known about the demographic wall we’re about to hit for many years. However, human nature, political realities and a host of other factors have left us unprepared for the challenges we’re about to face.

An hour-long discussion of the ways our aging population will shape Minnesota’s future – from our economic health to changes in our education, health care and public safety systems – is likely to leave a person seriously stressed or strangely optimistic, depending on your view of the world.

It’s true, the demographic changes we face are significant. Here are a few highlights from Gillaspy’s presentation:

  • In the next 10 yrs, MN will need 46% more healthcare workers to meet the growth in demand for services – especially in older adult field.
  • The single most common and fastest growing type of family in MN is 55+ empty-nesters with no kids at home.
  • In 10 years, MN will add as many people age 65 as we have in the past 4 decades – this number in particular begs the question, if we can’t afford long-term care today, what will we do in 20 years?

Looking at numbers like these reinforces the notion that nothing short of transformational change is needed to recreate our systems for the future. We are officially beyond the point where small changes, cuts and reforms around the edges will be sufficient – we need game-changers to stay ahead of the curve.

But that’s exactly where the opportunity lies and Minnesota is good at game-changers. We have been national leaders in seeing new and different ways to do things, creating unique partnerships, looking beyond how things have always been done and translating possibility into reality.

The evolution of Minnesota’s long-term care system is a prime example of what can be achieved when individuals, businesses, nonprofits, community leaders, families and elected leaders come together to envision something different.

We now face challenges that will require new partnerships and another infusion of energy, commitment and creativity to bring the next wave of game-changers, not just to our health care system, but all across our state.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a snapshot of how Minnesota’s leaders in the older adult services field are looking at the future: A live-poll of 200 Aging Services members at our Annual Meeting revealed that 78% are still optimistic about the future, despite many challenges on the horizon.

What do you think? Does the demographic crystal ball make you cringe, or are you doing new things to help shape the future?