The Next Great Challenge: Baby Boomers

One of the next greatest challenges that the US health care system faces is the aging of the baby boomers. The year 2011 marks the year that the first baby boomer turns 65. Before 20 years are up there will be over 70 million people that are 65 or older. As people age, they usually need more healthcare, in fact half of all hospital patients are 65 or older. The average 75 year old has three chronic conditions and four or more prescriptions. And as they get older, 42% of people aged 85 and up, have Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics can be sobering; so how can we make these the golden years?

Besides the reasons already noted, there are many other ways in which nurses will be instrumental in leading the way for Baby Boomers to age gracefully. First of all, there are more nurses than any other health care professional. And most importantly, nurses are aging along with the baby boomers. Half of all nurses will be fifty or older by 2020. This will enable them to empathize with the many challenges baby boomers face as they age.

Many nurse led innovations are changing how the elderly receive care. The goal is to maintain independence and dignity while ensuring the realities of aging are taken into consideration. This change in perspective helps to facilitate an active participation between both patient and caregiver. It has been shown that this healthy communication between the patient and the health professional leads to a better outcome and greater patient satisfaction.

An example of a nurse led innovation comes from the Raise the Voice initiative of the American Academy of Nursing. This initiative is directed at the elderly population using strategies to prevent hospitalization for acute episodes and also aims to keep seniors in their homes and communities as long as it is safe to do so. Another example comes from the Caregiver Skill Building Intervention in which caregivers are taught coping skills to better deal with their patient’s behaviors. The goal of this program is to ward of caregiver burnout and depression. If this is successful, it will delay nursing home placement for the patient for 1-5 years.

The shift in attitude towards care of the elderly must include their input. Any interventions or care should focus on the prevention and maintenance of good health or the management of chronic conditions to avoid episodes that require emergency care of hospitalization. The development of health care teams will help ensure that seniors can remain in the community and stay independent as long as possible.

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