The Growing Need for Adult Gerontology
While it’s widely known that the United States needs more nurse practitioners (NPs), there is an especially urgent need for more adult gerontology nurse practitioners (AGNPs) to care for the growing elderly population. AGNPs treat health issues affecting the cognitive, physical, psychological and social function of their patients. However, there are only 7,029 certified geriatricians currently practicing in the United States, and this number needs to double to keep up with the demand.
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In 2016, there were 150,230 nurse practitioners working in the United States. Approximately 8.9 percent of these NPs specialized in gerontology.
However, the demand for adult gerontology primary care is expected to increase 14.3 percent by 2024.
Reasons for Employment Growth
America’s population is aging. Approximately 15.2 percent of U.S. residents are at least 65 years old, with the median age in 95.2 percent of all U.S. counties having increased between 2000 and 2016.
Chronic conditions are also prevalent among America’s elderly population. Approximately 37.8 percent of older adults in the United States are obese, 23 percent have arthritis and 11.9 percent have diabetes. It is also estimated that 11.6 percent of aging U.S. adults have heart disease, 6.5 percent have cancer and 2.7 percent have had a stroke.
Some states have a greater need for nurse practitioners than others. Mississippi, Maine, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Vermont are the five states with the highest concentration of nurse practitioner job positions.
Roles and Responsibilities
Many conditions affecting the elderly need a certain level of expertise to treat. Adult gerontology nurse practitioners are able to care for aging populations who are dealing with common functional declines or acute, critical and complex illnesses. AGNPs should also be able to provide palliative or end-of-life care and therapeutic interventions to maintain or restore an optimal level of function.
AGNPs have numerous roles and responsibilities, which can include conducting physical examinations, evaluating the well-being of patients, ordering diagnostic tests, devising customized care plans, diagnosing diseases and prescribing medications. AGNPs also consult with patients and caregivers in order to educate them about geriatric well-being and to ensure that they are receiving the best care possible.
Relieving Family Caregivers
Approximately 34.2 million Americans are providing unpaid care for an adult aged 50 or older, spending an average of 24.4 hours per week caring for their loved ones. However, 23 percent of caregivers provide at least 41 hours of care each week, with spouses spending an estimated 44.6 hours per week caring for their partner’s needs.
Caregivers may need to provide care for a plethora of reasons. Among caregivers, 59 percent are providing care for a long-term physical condition, 37 percent are providing care for multiple ongoing health problems, 35 percent are providing care for a short-term physical condition and 26 percent are providing care for a memory problem.
Caregivers may be facing an array of challenges, including issues related to their financial situation or their physical and mental vitality.
Approximately 22 percent of caregivers have reported feeling financial strain after providing care for at least a year, and 18 percent are experiencing financial strain due to providing care.
Only 48 percent of caregivers have reported feeling that they are in excellent or very good health, whereas 22 percent feel that their health has worsened and 17 percent feel their health is fair or poor.
While these challenges can cause caregivers to experience an excessive amount of stress, adult gerontology nurse practitioners are able to provide them with invaluable help. After all, 84 percent of caregivers want to learn more about relevant caregiving topics, and AGNPs are professionals with the skills and education to help caregivers handle the challenges they’re facing.
When caregivers were asked what they wanted to learn more about, 42 percent stated that they want more information on keeping their loved one safe at home, 42 percent want more information on managing their own stress and 22 percent want more information on making end-of-life decisions.
Caregivers were also asked about the amount of training and guidance they received for completing medical and caregiving tasks. Approximately 57 percent of caregivers stated that they have assisted with medical tasks. And while 14 percent of caregivers said they are performing medical tasks with some preparation or training, 42 percent said they are performing these tasks without any preparation at all.
With the steadily increasing elderly population in the United States and a noticeable shortage of qualified geriatric professionals, new adult gerontology nurse practitioners will have plenty of opportunities to do critical and meaningful work. AGNPs have the specialized expertise needed to help family caregivers navigate the difficulties and challenges that can come with caring for aging loved ones.