In the US, the older population or those who are 65 years old and above has increased rapidly since a decade ago. The U.S. Census Bureau recorded a 34.2% increase or an additional 13,787,044 people in this age group. In the year 2018-2019 alone, there were 1,688,924 people who reached 65 years old. This trend is due to baby boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964 reaching retirement age.
By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65 years old. In that year, 1 in every 5 Americans will belong to this age group. For the first time in US history, there will be more older people than children.
This projection will bring about drastic changes in many ways that Americans live, including changes in national policies, programs, and many more. Healthcare providers are well aware of this surge in the older population and they have actually made the preparation their 'main business'.
The expected increase in retiring baby boomers is the reason why the "gray tsunami” or “silver tsunami” was coined. The gray tsunami refers to the big wave of the older population that will affect many aspects of the US as a country as a tsunami would.
Nursing assistants must be prepared to tackle this challenge as it is already happening.
Here are things to ponder on as well as some useful information to help you in your career:
1. You will be caring for many more older people.
Year after year, there will be a larger number of older patients to take care of and you should be able to adapt to this change. It will help to go back to your nursing concepts every now and again for a refresher just to keep your patient care at par with current standards.
Keep in mind that although people live longer nowadays, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthier. Many will have healthcare needs in their advanced years. Older patients will need assistance as they slowly lose their independence.
2. There will be more career options in the care of older people.
The changes will bring about many job opportunities in the care of patients who are in their retirement age. The government will allot more resources, and that means more institutions with different services will pop up.
As of now, there are many types of facilities that cater to older people. There are retirement communities, assisted living, sheltered housing, continuing care facilities, nursing homes, among others. Hospitals, clinics, and nursing facilities are for those with more complex medical attention. Because of the growing needs and demands for these institutions, expect that there’ll be more versions of each or stand-alone services that will meet a particular health need. It will be like a career menu where CNAs can conveniently choose from.
3. You have to see the difference between caring for older people and that of younger adults.
Older patients, especially the old-old, may have different signs and symptoms of an illness than younger adults. For example, if it's common knowledge that a person with flu will have a fever, for the old and frail patients, this may not be so. Instead of fever, their body temperature may even drop lower than their usual. Confusion is also a symptom that should alert you that something may be wrong.
Older patients usually have more than one long-term illness, and they take so many medications. The signs and symptoms of their chronic illness or side effects of their medications may mask new health problems.
For this reason, it is good to be always alert for new complaints and for even for small changes in their condition. Keep in mind that aging can affect the way the body can fight and respond to diseases and injuries. And just as important is safeguarding their independence because older patients see independence as a very big part of their quality of life.
4. Those with Alzheimer’s disease will increase in number.
Today, some 5.8 million Americans already have Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, this number is projected to more than double (13.8 million). Currently, Alzheimer's disease is the fifth leading cause of death in this age group.
What do these numbers mean to the CNA? A lot of things. Firstly, chances are you'll be caring for many patients with Alzheimer's disease. Secondly, you have to be knowledgeable about the effect of this condition on a person's independence as well as on their physical and mental wellbeing. Lastly, be aware that these patients have unique needs brought about by the changes in their brain and bodily functions. Anticipate possible behavior problems, too.
5. Expect changes to senior living conditions.
The demand for senior living arrangements will definitely increase. There will also be changes in the style and manner that people will want to be cared for. Be prepared to care for those with the simplest needs and those who would still like to continue their luxurious lifestyle amidst their health issues.
6. Brace yourself because there will be more technological advancements.
Imagine what technology has brought us in the last 30 years. What do you think can technology bring to the table for older people in the next decade or so? Nursing assistants like you must be able to keep up with this kind of progress. High-tech equipment and gadgets will surely be useful especially if there would be fewer workers willing to take on the job of caring for patients.
There is no stopping the gray tsunami. The only way to cope with it is to ride its tide and welcome the accompanying changes, and you can be a valuable asset to this change.
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