Nurses, caregivers on front lines of aging populations:As baby boomer population's age goes up, so do their medical needs

2013-08-04T10:00:00Z 2013-08-05T15:15:05Z Nurses, caregivers on front lines of aging populations:As baby boomer population's age goes up, so do their medical needsChristine Bryant Times Correspondent
August 04, 2013 10:00 am  • 

As the Baby Boomer population continues to age, geriatric care has become a field to watch.

In 2010, there were 40.3 million people age 65 and older in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2050, that number is projected to hit more than 88 million.

This presents a challenge for senior living centers and at-home caregivers, who are at the front lines of caring for this aging population - and their increasing medical needs.

"One of the biggest challenges is expanding services to address the diverse needs of the assisted living population while providing excellent care at an affordable cost," said Cindy Schafer, a registered nurse and clinical supervisor at St. Anthony Assisted Living in Crown Point.

About 60 percent of baby boomers - a generation born in the two decades following World War II - have been diagnosed with at least one chronic medical condition, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Many of these conditions require the assistance of senior living facilities and at-home nurses, though residents' needs can differ from requiring a little help with daily living to physical therapy.

"The degree of our residents' needs varies greatly, especially over the past five years," Schafer said. "Our state is now requiring people to be much more dependent in order to transition into a traditional nursing home. Therefore, their needs have to be addressed in a different environment."

While some patients' needs require a stay in an assisted living facility, others can rely on nurses and caregivers who visit them in their homes.

"Since patients' stays at hospitals seem to be shorter than in years past, home care services are greatly needed," said Jill A. Barr, community relations liaison with Franciscan Home Care Services and a home care nurse.

The care of a patient becomes a team effort - a team that includes physicians, nurses, home health aides, social workers and therapists.

"Some patients want to stay in their homes and are able to do so," Barr said. "For others, due to a medical condition, it's not possible, or even safe."

Knowing a loved one is safe and has an opportunity for socialization, Schafer said, is especially important when working with Alzheimer's patients.

"There are so many diseases and chronic conditions that our residents deal with on a daily basis, but I think that Alzheimer's disease, or just dementia in general, has become so prevalent in this population," she said.

Gina Kelly, president of ComForcare in Valparaiso, said as a provider of private home care services, she has experienced this first-hand.

"We have seen a major increase in dementia and Alzheimer's clients," she said.

Estimates vary, but some experts suggest as many as 5.1 million Americans may have the disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

"We also have clients who are recovering from hip surgeries, stroke patients, congestive heart failure, Parkinson's and much more - all with different needs," Kelly said.

As home health care has changed, Marsha Leonard said she has observed more residents wanting to age in place and in a home-like situation.

Leonard is the executive director of Rittenhouse Senior Living of Portage, and said because the needs of the baby boomer generation are so diverse, meeting each resident and family member's expectations is her staff's biggest challenge.

"Quality care looks different to each and every one of us," she said.

Though many residents at Rittenhouse Senior Living live independently in many ways, they still may need help with medication assistance, dressing, grooming and incontinence care, for example.

"Nurses are a vital part of our community," Leonard said. "Seniors are wanting to age in place as much as possible. Nurses in our community allow that to happen."

With health care reform on the nation's doorstep, Schafer said the senior living industry as a whole is going to be challenged with providing more care out of the hospital setting.

"Something that we would typically have sent one of our residents to the hospital for evaluation and treatment in the past will likely be addressed in house in the future," she said. "This will cause a demand for more nurses and clinical staff in the assisted living setting."

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