Examining Social and Political Gerontology Issues in Elder Health Care

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A nurse talks with an elderly patient.

Providing health care to elderly patients has always been a fundamental goal for physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. Being prepared to deliver quality care to the growing number of elderly patients, however, is uncharted territory. People in the United States are living longer than ever before, which has created a host of unique challenges in the health care sector. Health issues among the elderly often become socioeconomic and political concerns, adding an extra layer of complexity that health care professionals must consider.

The growing number of elderly patients also correlates to a growing shortage of nurses and physicians, underscoring the critical need for high-level nursing professionals. Nurse leaders can use their advanced knowledge and skills not only to help devise key strategies to address gerontology issues but also to help prepare the next generation of nurses to meet the challenges with confidence. Completing an advanced degree program at an accredited institution, such as the online Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice, can help individuals cultivate the deep knowledge and leadership skills necessary to face these gerontology issues head-on and deliver impactful care that can potentially improve patient outcomes.

The Aging Population in the U.S.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects the number of people in the country age 65 and older to increase from 56.1 million to 73.1 million between 2020 and 2030. By the end of this decade, the youngest of the baby boomers will have turned 65, and 1 in 5 U.S. citizens will be 65 or older. These numbers are encouraging from a longevity standpoint but represent an unprecedented challenge for the health care industry.

The rising number of people 65 and older creates a greater demand for specialized care. About 30% of this group will need to be treated by a professional specializing in geriatric care, according to a study conducted by the American Geriatrics Society’s Geriatrics Workforce Policy Studies Center. Nurse leaders of tomorrow must not only prepare for a greater influx of older patients but also ready themselves to treat conditions and issues that are unique to the demographic.

The next generation of nurse leaders must also prepare for the advancing age of today’s health care professionals. An increased number of health care providers such as physicians and nurses will be reaching retirement age by 2030, leaving a substantial number of job openings in their wake. These retirements are likely to contribute to a boom in advanced nursing roles. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to grow by 26% between 2018 and 2028, substantially more than the 7% projected for overall employment.

Gerontology Issues Facing Elder Health Care

The growing 65-and-older population doesn’t just mean more patients for APRNs to treat. As people get older, they run a greater risk of developing multiple chronic issues. Having one chronic illness to treat is nearly expected; 8 in 10 people have at least one chronic disease by 65, according to the National Council on Aging. However, treating multiple chronic issues that affect a patient’s physical or mental health could make creating a personalized health strategy more complex.

The projected increase in elderly patients also means a greater need for care strategies geared toward the demographic, such as assisted living or long-term care. These strategies must consider socioeconomic factors, as patients may be reluctant to give up independence or have financial limitations that impact the level of care they can receive.

Geography can also pose a challenge to providing quality care to elderly patients. A disproportionate number of older individuals live in the country’s rural areas, where access to geriatric-specific care may be scarcer compared with major metropolitan areas. This could make it difficult for these individuals to receive specific treatments for chronic conditions or even locate nearby assisted living facilities. Nurse leaders can mitigate this issue by providing care in areas where seeing a physician in a timely manner can pose a challenge.

How Nurse Leaders Can Help

The projected increase in the number of older adults over the next decade, combined with the projected shortage of health care professionals, sharpens the need for nurse practitioners (NPs) specializing in adult-gerontology care. These NPs can use their finely tuned skills and knowledge to help design strategies that take into account the unique needs of older patients. NPs will be especially important in states that grant them full practice and prescriptive authority, as they can use their leadership to directly mitigate the effects of the projected physician shortage.

Students interested in leading the way in this specialized field of health care can cultivate a deep core competency in geriatric care through an accredited program such as Regis College’s online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice. The MSN to DNP curriculum can help students develop the skills they need to be effective in high-level positions in health care, such as advanced leadership, analytical, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. The courses featured in the Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) track, such as Political, Financial, and Social Issues in Gerontology, are designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of the complexities associated with treating older patients and prepare to lead others in caring for a burgeoning demographic.

Become a Key Leader in Care Delivery

Providing quality care to older patients has always been critical for health care facilities. As this demographic grows, skilled professionals such as NPs will need to develop strategies to address gerontology issues and provide effective care. Learn more about how Regis College’s online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program and its Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP) track can help nurses prepare to make a positive impact in this area of care.

Recommended Readings
Ethics in Nursing: What Every Nurse Should Know
The Importance of Developing Culturally Competent Health Care
What Are Some Doctor of Nursing Practice Specialties?

Sources:
American Journal of Managed Care, “Nurse Practitioners Play an Increasing Role in Primary Care”
CNBC, “America’s Aging Population Is Leading to a Doctor Shortage Crisis”
KBPS, “Paging More Doctors: California’s Worsening Physician Shortage”
MarketWatch, “There Is a Shortage of Doctors Specializing in Older Patients — Here’s Why That Needs to Change”
Forbes, “Aging Populations Will Challenge Healthcare Systems All Over the World”
National Council on Aging, “Top 10 Chronic Conditions in Adults 65+ and What You Can Do to Prevent or Manage Them”
Regis College, Online MSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice
Rural Health Information Hub, Demographic Changes and Aging Population
Scope of Practice Authority, Nurse Practitioners Overview
Scope of Practice Policy, Legislative Search
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Census Bureau, “Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060″
U.S. News & Health Report, “Can Nurse Practitioners Help Ease the Growing Physician Shortage?”