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UT Arlington Launches Program To Ease Shortage Of Geriatric Care Specialists

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People 65 and over often enjoy robust lives, but their bodies change after middle age, and that requires specialized care.

U.S. Census figures show the 65-and-older population has grown by more than 13 million during the past decade. But there's a shortage of specialized care for that segment.

The University of Texas at Arlington has responded to the shortage in elder care with a new graduate-level certificate program in gerontology.

Dr. Kathryn Daniel is an Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at UT Arlington and director of the gerontology certificate program. She talked about the program and elder care needs with KERA’s Sam Baker.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

The Need For The Certificate Program

A lot of people have bachelor's degrees in nursing, social work, a lot of those fields where they're working with older adults in healthcare settings, but they haven't had any specialized training about older adults.

There's a definite shortage of people with skilled geriatric care at the physician level, at the nurse practitioner level, at the registered nurse level, at the social work level. So this hopefully bridges that gap a little bit.

About The Program Courses

The courses are in the social work department. Some are in the nursing department.

One required course in the certificate is health policy. Health care systems for older adults in the United States are fairly complex: Medicare, Medicaid, and managed care. The course talks about how older adults get access to different programs.

The other topic covered thoroughly in that course has to do with models of care, different delivery systems for providing care. We do some of those in Texas, but there are some that we don't do very much.

Is the Program Only About People Unable To Care For Themselves?

Much more than that. Most older adults are still very capable and able to care for themselves, but they're not really the same as a middle-aged adult, either.

At 65 or after, things gradually change physically. We seem to accumulate chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiac disease, over our lifetime. And that becomes a sum of diseases at an older age. That doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen to more people at later ages than it does to younger people. These medical conditions require management and knowledge of how to use the systems we have to your best advantage.

How our bodies adapt to things changes. For example, how we metabolize drugs, how we metabolize foods. That changes. The percent of our body that is fat versus muscle lean muscle changes.

Yet More Of Us Are Living Longer

We’re the products of the successes we've had over the last several decades. Preventative medicine and antibiotics have allowed people to live successfully to a much older age than in previous decades.

Three Steps For Aging With Quality Of Life

  • You need to have a primary care provider who understands older adults.
  • Look for reputable sources of information about health in older adults. AARP is wonderful. In North Texas, the Area Agencies On Aging provide outstanding services.
  • You need a social network, friends who support you, family members that you talk with every day, wherever they are. Especially during this time of isolation and loneliness, your social support network is really, really important.

RESOURCES:

About the UTA Gerontology Graduate Certificate Program

Why America faces a geriatrician shortage (and what to do about it)

Geriatrics Workforce By The Numbers

When to Hire a Geriatric Care Manager

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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