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Advocacy Group details Treatment Needs for
KHN Staff Writer
May 12, 2010
the "silver tsunami" prepares to hit the
U.S. health care system, some officials
worry that there aren't enough professionals
who have been properly trained to work with
the unique needs of these senior patients.
Today, the Partnership for Health in Aging,
a coalition of more than 20 organizations
dealing with care of seniors, released a
set of 23 skills that all health
care professionals - doctors, dentists,
nurses, social workers and others - should
have by the time they graduate.
Currently, a student's exposure to geriatric
care varies widely, depending on the
curriculum. Some students get virtually no
training in seniors' special needs, the
"Older people are not just big children,"
said Dr. Todd Semla, the chair of the PHA
American Geriatrics Society.
They present health problems and metabolize
medications differently than other age
groups. For instance, an 80-year-old woman
with pneumonia might have
milder symptoms than
a 40-year-old. Older adults may even have a
lower-than-normal temperature, instead of a
And, health care providers should monitor
these patients for age-related risks, such
as falls, and should know how to gauge pain
experienced by seniors with Alzheimer's
disease or other cognitive problems because
communication and memory issues can hinder
Dr. Judith Beizer, a clinical pharmacy
professor at St. John's University in
Queens, N.Y., said pharmacy schools often
don't have specialists in geriatrics or
electives in geriatrics. "When I was in
school, geriatrics wasn't mentioned at all.
It wasn't something I was introduced to
really until my residency and that was only
because I was accepted to do a fellowship in
Even now, pharmacists aren't always aware
that seniors may be getting inappropriate
doses, may be experiencing different side
effects than younger adults and may not be
able to read a pill bottle label because the
type is too small. Beizer said those issues
arise especially with pain, diabetes and
"If you don' have that sensitivity and
knowledge, you can really harm somebody,"
The number of seniors is expected to almost
double between 2005 and 2030. Because the
supply of geriatricians and other
professional specifically trained to help
seniors cannot meet the growing demand, PHA
is urging all professional training to
include seniors’ needs.
The PHA recommendations span six general
areas: health promotion and safety;
evaluation and assessment; care planning and
coordination, including end-of-life care;
interdisciplinary and team care; caregiver
support; and health systems and benefits.
For instance, the group recommends that
health professionals be able to assess risks
for seniors in their homes or the community,
including falls or abuse.
"Many health care disciplines operate within
their own silo," said Dr. John Barr, a
physical therapist and member of PHA. "What
we were really trying to do here is to take
a step back and write broad, encompassing
general areas in which health care
professionals should be competent."
PHA was formed in 2008 as a response to the
Institute of Medicine's report
"Retooling for an Aging America"
that recommended that "health care
professionals should be required to
demonstrate their competence in the care of
older adults as a criterion of licensure and