Caring for an Aging Population

People are living longer. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that one in five of the country’s residents will reach retirement age by 2030. Just five years past that date, for the first time ever, people 65 and older are projected to outnumber those under 18.

As the number of aging adults increases every day, registered nurses (RNs) with training in elder care are becoming more important than ever. The RN to BSN program at the University of South Carolina Aiken includes coursework on gerontology and healthy aging. Working nurses can complete this 100-percent-online program in just 12 months, ready to provide high-quality care to older adults.

What Healthcare Needs Do Older Adults Have?

As people live longer, they are at greater risk for chronic conditions. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that approximately 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease. Four chronic diseases account for the majority of all deaths in the U.S.:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) points out that chronic diseases are among the most “common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.” The CDC’s Healthy Aging Program focuses on promoting and protecting health and quality of life for adults aged 50 and older.

As part of the Healthy Aging Program, the CDC established a network of research centers that study how people and their communities can reduce chronic disease. Projects at the Prevention Research Center at USC, for example, promote physical activity and healthy eating.

How Can RNs Promote the Health of Older Adults?

Despite serious health concerns for aging adults, there is good news. According to the CDC, “healthier behaviors, more supportive environments, and better access to preventive health services” can prevent a significant portion of the health issues associated with chronic diseases.

RNs are known for the caring, compassionate bonds they build with patients. They are on the front lines, delivering the majority of patient care. This positions RNs to take the lead in improving health outcomes for older adults.

RNs have always played an important role in patient and family education. This is particularly important for older patients, in terms of providing life-changing education to prevent and self-manage chronic conditions. Older adults are likely to have more than one chronic condition, and RNs can coordinate care to manage the fragmentation that may result from multiple providers.

Healthy People 2020 is an initiative of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion designed to improve the nation’s health. One objective is to increase the number of older adults who are up to date with clinical preventive services, including:

  • Influenza and pneumococcal vaccines
  • Mammography screening
  • Colorectal cancer screening
  • Diabetes screening
  • Lipid management
  • Osteoporosis screenings
  • Smoking cessation

As the medical professionals with the most direct patient contact, RNs are well-positioned to help achieve this goal.

No doubt, RNs are in demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of RNs is expected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The aging population is one reason for the growing demand.

Yet, in its report “Preparing for Better Health and Health Care for an Aging Population,” the National Academy of Medicine notes that nursing is “deficient” in geriatrics. Higher levels of education, such as the RN to BSN program at USC Aiken, can help RNs develop the knowledge and skills to help older adults live healthier lives.

Learn more about USC Aiken’s online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.


Sources:

United States Census: Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History

NCOA: Healthy Aging Facts

CDC: Chronic Disease – 2016-2017 At a Glance Fact Sheets

CDC: About CDC’s Healthy Aging Program

CDC: Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging

CDC: At a Glance 2015 – Healthy AgingCDC: A Flu Shot Is the Best Shot at Prevention for People 65 and Older

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: About Healthy People

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Older Adults

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses – Job Outlook

National Academy of Sciences: Preparing for Better Health and Health Care for an Aging Population

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