Office Of Public Affairs
Center on Aging Ready for 'Age Wave' as First Baby Boomers Turn 65
As the first baby boomers near their 65th birthday on Jan. 1, 2011, the University of Utah Center on Aging (CoA) is prepared to meet the needs of this historic 'Age Wave' by addressing both clinical health care and workforce-education issues that will become increasingly important in the next decades.
Dec 15, 2010 1:25 PM
(SALT LAKE CITY)—As the first baby boomers near their 65th birthday on Jan. 1, 2011, the University of Utah Center on Aging (CoA) is prepared to meet the needs of this historic “Age Wave” by addressing both clinical health care and workforce-education issues that will become increasingly important in the next decades.
In clinical care, two innovative CoA programs to prevent delirium in elderly hospital patients and link people who need long-term nursing care to the right resources show the kinds of adaptations health care must make to meet the needs of an aging population. The CoA and College of Nursing also are training the professionals who will be leaders in their fields through a master of science in gerontology degree that addresses areas from grief and bereavement to family care giving to the elderly.
“We’ve been talking about the Age Wave for 20 years,” says Scott D. Wright, Ph.D., director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program and U associate professor of nursing. “Now, it’s here. The question is: Are we ready?”
The sheer numbers indicate the impact aging baby boomers – defined as the generation born between 1946 and 1964 – will have on nearly every aspect of society: Beginning this Jan. 1, an average of 10,800 U.S. citizens will turn 65 every day for almost 20 years. By the time this demographic wave crests in 2030, an estimated 78 million baby boomers will be 65 and older.
For health care, that means providers and organizations must think in ways that meet the needs of a much larger elderly population, according to Mark A. Supiano, M.D., executive director of the CoA and chief of geriatrics at the U of U School of Medicine. In that regard, the new delirium prevention program at University Hospital is the kind of innovative response that fills a unique need for older hospital patients, up to one-third of whom over age 70 will experience delirium during a hospital stay. The delirium prevention effort is part of the CoA’s Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP).
“When patients experience delirium, it complicates their recovery, prolongs their hospital stays, and increases costs,” says Supiano, professor of internal medicine. “Establishing HELP is one way the Center on Aging and University Hospital are adapting to the needs of treating older people.”
The HELP program is staffed by volunteers – many of whom are in their mid-60s and beyond – and focuses on five key areas to help older people stay active and engaged while in the hospital: keeping patients hydrated; maintaining their mobility (getting patients out of bed); helping them stay oriented to their surroundings; making sure their sensory needs are met (ensuring they have their glasses and hearing aids); and helping them get adequate sleep. To be eligible for the program patients must be older than 70.
Initial reviews indicate the rate of delirium occurrence in older patients has been reduced by almost half– from 33 percent to 17 percent – in University Hospital since the program began. “This shows the potential impact that just one innovative change can have on health care for older patients,” Supiano says.
In another area of growing importance, the Utah Commission on Aging, which is housed in the Center on Aging, is using a $700,000 grant to help link people who require long-term care after a hospital stay to the resources that can help them. The commission has established several Aging and Disability Resource Centers to link hospital discharge planners and those who need long-term care with appropriate agencies and services. For some people, that might mean finding long-term nursing facilities. But for others, according to Commission on Aging Director Maureen Henry, J.D., that could mean arranging home care instead of a high-cost nursing facility. In the long run, that could benefit not only the patient but the health care system, too.
“People who go into nursing facilities are likely to stay there,” Henry said. “But by putting people in nursing facilities who may not need to be there, are we increasing the number of Medicaid patients?”
Adapting health care for an increasingly older patient population also will require tens of thousands of professionals to fill the need for gerontology workers. The Center on Aging and the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program, established in 1972, are uniquely qualified to help train those workers. With more than 100 researchers across campus, the CoA represents expertise in just about every major discipline that intersects with aging, from consumer studies to occupational therapy to social work, according to Wright.
The Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program, part of the U of U College of Nursing, has offered since 1993 a master of science in gerontology degree to prepare students for management and leadership roles in gerontology. The degree offers six primary research specialties: family care giving; intergenerational relationships; public policy; sustainable communities; safety and medication errors; and grief and bereavement. It also offers a specialty track in geriatric care management, which trains students for careers coordinating geriatric care for families whose loved ones need the help of numerous caregivers and agencies.
For those unable to pursue a master’s degree, a graduate certificate in gerontology also is available, according to Wright.
“From the research bench to clinical care and public policy, the Center on Aging and the master’s degree are preparing people to have leadership roles in responding to the needs of this country’s growing elderly population,” Wright says. “That’s where the U of U is going to have an important role in this state.”
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