Better health care for older adults

stock - senior patient

UIC health care faculty will create an online training program for clinicians to provide better care for older adults. — Photo: Mandie Mills/CDC

A multidisciplinary team of UIC health care faculty will collaborate to develop an online training program for primary care physicians to help them provide better care for older adults.

The project will include nurses, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, occupational and physical therapists and social workers.

“The number of clinicians trained in geriatrics has been steadily declining,” says Valerie Gruss, assistant professor of nursing and co-primary investigator on the grant.

“If this trend continues, there will be a severe shortage of geriatricians available to treat an ever-increasing number of older adults.”

The project is funded by a three-year, $2.5 million federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration under the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program.

The online training will include assessing for cognitive impairment, prescribing home assistive devices, identifying social and environmental issues, coordinating hospice care, navigating the health care system, and educating older patients and caregivers about their conditions and treatments.

The number of adults over 65 in the U.S., now about 40 million, is projected to reach 72.1 million by 2030. Most older adults have at least one chronic condition and many have several, requiring comprehensive care.

Treating older patients is very different from treating younger ones, Gruss said.

“You need to take into consideration the environment of older patients,” said Gruss. “Do they live alone? If so, having them go for multiple imaging procedures might be really difficult. These are things most doctors don’t think about when treating young, mobile patients.”

Gruss and co-principal investigator Memoona Hasnain, associate professor of family medicine and medical education in the College of Medicine, decided to develop the course as an online certificate program, making all training materials widely accessible.

The researchers plan to create apps that help caregivers and family members learn more about common conditions like dementia and mobility problems.

“This grant will help us create lasting tools that can help prepare a workforce that is able to address the health issues facing a growing aging population,” Hasnain said.

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