Older patients who experience chronic illnesses and diseases have unique social needs and rely on others greatly. Their care is often more complex, requiring more healthcare services to maintain their well-being than younger generations.
In addition, the field of geriatric care has seen a handful of changes given the recent COVID-19 pandemic, increased digitization of systems and complicated health insurance policies. Nursing professionals should be aware of these emerging global health issues because of their impact on patients and care delivery. However, there are also opportunities for nursing professionals — especially graduates of an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) program like that at the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) — to improve the lives of the elderly.
What Are the Most Pressing Issues Affecting Geriatric Care?
The number of Americans aged 65 and older will nearly double by 2060, rising from 52 million to 95 million and accounting for 23% of the population, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Given the specific needs of the elderly and the size of this unique group of patients, nursing professionals should consider some of the most pressing issues guiding the future of senior care.
The following are some of the most prevalent challenges in healthcare for the geriatric population:
Maximizing quality of care and access. While access to care and the quality of those services matter for patients of all ages, it is a critical concern for the elderly. For example, more Americans now opt to “age in place” at home instead of transitioning to a long-term care facility. Travel or financial restrictions may dissuade them from seeking necessary care, particularly if services are only available in person. Additionally, adhering to a care plan without extra support can prove challenging.
Creating an age-friendly healthcare system. The American Hospital Association Center for Health Innovation proposes shifting to an age-friendly healthcare system founded on the 4Ms Framework:
- Medications: Prescribe medications designed for older patients who do not interfere with their preferences, mobility or cognition.
- Mentation: Prioritize the early diagnosis and treatment of depression, dementia and delirium.
- Mobility: Support safe movement and exercise to maintain independence
- What matters: Align care to the patient’s goals, wishes and social needs.
Incorporating digital tech. Nursing professionals will likely engage with elderly patients more frequently using technology, such as tools for remote patient monitoring and telehealth. Digital health technology can minimize the impact of provider shortages, foster continuity of care, improve access to services and facilitate better communication and support for senior patients.
Supporting patients’ independence. Patients may rely on technology in the home to maintain their independence and stay on track with health goals. For example, smart devices that utilize voice assistants, such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, can remind older patients when to take their medication, eat or call their provider for a follow-up. Plus, the ubiquity of senior-friendly cell phones and the option to use the device as a medical alert tool can help the elderly remain self-sufficient but connected.
Increasing the number of geriatric care providers. Despite the growth in demand for geriatric care, the number of available healthcare providers has not kept pace. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there will be nearly 27K full-time geriatrician vacancies by 2025. As in other medical specialties where physician shortages exist, clinical nurse leaders will likely be instrumental in bridging the gap in elderly care.
How Can Nurses Learn More About Gerontology?
Nurses interested in improving care quality for older adults should consider an advanced nursing degree in gerontology. ULM’s online MSN – Gerontologic Clinical Nurse Leader program equips graduates to provide high-quality care to older patients and develop a well-rounded familiarity with current issues and trends in senior care. Through courses like Biology of Aging, Health Policy & Global Health, and Social Gerontology, students learn strategies to support the elderly and adapt care delivery models to optimize their well-being and personal health goals.
Today, the nation’s population lives longer and has more complex health conditions. These demographic changes affect care delivery and contribute to global health trends. Gerontology nursing professionals aware of these issues can also be part of the solution.
Learn more about ULM’s online MSN – Gerontologic CNL program.