Nursing education is changing to meet the needs of an aging population. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65.
According to the Administration on Aging (www.aoa.gov), people 65 years and older numbered 38.9 million in 2008 - or about 12 percent of the population. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65. And between 2030 and 2050, the number of the "oldest old" - people over 85 - will rise sharply as the baby boomers age.
An aging population poses a challenge for healthcare - especially nursing. That's because older adults receive the highest percentage of healthcare services, and registered nurses play an essential role in their care.
According to the National League for Nursing (www.nln.org), about 50 percent of patients in hospital and ambulatory care settings are over 65, and more than 90 percent of residents in nursing homes are older adults. This means that all nurses - not just those who specialize in geriatrics - must understand the aging process and special needs of these patients.
Responding To The Need
Nursing schools are working to infuse geriatrics throughout the nursing curriculum. "We're responding to a societal need," says Corjena Cheung, assistant professor of nursing at St. Catherine University (www.stkate.edu).
At St. Catherine's, for example, a partnership between the associate of science in nursing program and Catholic Senior Services allows students to gain experience caring for older people. On a more theoretical level, medical/surgical courses include simulations/case studies of patients with age-related diseases.
Dispelling The Myths
Cheung is enthusiastic about a proposed required course in gerontology that will offer a multi-disciplinary view of the normal aging process, including physiological, psychosocial and financial aspects.
As a result of these curricular changes, nursing students are learning to go beyond the myths and stereotypes that surround aging. And this is helping to ensure that older people will receive the competent and compassionate care they'll need in the decades ahead.