University of Illinois at Chicago faculty nurses, physicians, dentists, pharmacists, occupational and physical therapists and social workers will collaborate to develop a web-based training program for primary care physicians to help them provide better care for older adults.
The project is funded by a three-year, $2.5 million federal grant, one of 44 given in 2015 by the Health Resources and Services Administration totaling $35.7 million under the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program to integrate geriatrics into primary care.
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 their caregivers on their conditions and treatments.
The number of adults over 65 in the U.S., currently approximately 40 million, is increasing rapidly and 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. The healthcare workforce has not grown or adapted to keep pace.
“The number of clinicians trained in geriatrics has been steadily declining,” says Valerie Gruss, assistant professor in the UIC College 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.”
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 Dr. Memoona Hasnain, associate professor of family medicine and medical education in the UIC College of Medicine, decided to develop the course as an online certificate program, so that all training materials will be widely accessible. The researchers also plan to create apps that caregivers, including family members, can use to learn about common conditions like dementia and mobility issues.
“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,” said Hasnain.