If you are interested in or already working in gerontology, then you know that caring for the aging population presents a number of unique challenges. While some primary care physicians have pointed out that middle-aged individuals and older adults face some of the same health problems, the fact is there are several serious health care issues that only older adults typically face. Following are the top three unique challenges confronting those who are getting older:
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One out of every nine adults over the age of 65 has this condition, and it is expected that the number of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease will reach an astonishing 13.8 million by the year 2050.
Providing proper care to Alzheimer’s disease sufferers can be challenging. Often, care providers will also act as care planners, using specialized management skills to explain medical issues and treatment options.
Behavioral changes can also make it difficult to care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. As the Bright Focus Foundation points out, many patients become apathetic or even depressed. Both conditions make it challenging to provide care as the patient is unable to provide needed cooperation. Aggression is another common behavior. It is not uncommon for a patient with Alzheimer’s disease to physically assault someone he or she feels agitated toward; furthermore, it is very easy for a person with Alzheimer’s to misunderstand directions and instructions and thus become aggravated with attempts to provide care.
While Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, some important differences exist between these two conditions. Dementia impacts a person’s memory, communication skills and the ability to perform daily activities. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, affects not only memory but also language and the ability to think clearly.
According to the Health and Retirement Study, the risk of dementia increases with age. Individuals in their 70s have a 5 percent chance of contracting this condition, while those in their 90s have a 37.4 percent chance of being affected by dementia. In addition, some health conditions that can bring on dementia or worsen existing dementia symptoms include hypoglycemia, metabolic disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and tumors. If a patient has one or more of these conditions, he or she may need to see a specialist.
Furthermore, patients with dementia tend to exhibit agitated, aggressive behavior that can put caretakers in danger or at the very least make it extremely difficult to provide proper care. For example, it can be difficult to give a dementia patient an eye exam or a dental exam as the patient simply cannot understand what the doctor is doing and why. Dementia can in some cases cause hallucinations that totally confuse a patient and make it impossible to communicate clearly with him or her.
Unique Symptoms and Complications From Diabetes Type 2
Many people of all ages and from all walks of life struggle with diabetes type 2; however, older adults with diabetes type 2 often exhibit different symptoms from younger patients who have this condition. Instead of asking a patient if he or she has been experiencing excessive thirst and the frequent need to urinate, a doctor or caretaker will need to look for symptoms such as dehydration, dry eyes and mouth, confusion, and incontinence.
Those in the aging population with diabetes are twice as likely to develop dementia as older adults who do not have diabetes. Those responsible for their care will need to be on the lookout for symptoms of diabetes and act promptly in the event the patient shows signs of functional decline.
It can also be difficult to ensure aging patients are eating healthy foods that can help keep their diabetes in check. Even older adults who can think clearly may not eat right because they cannot afford the healthy foods the dietician recommends. Financial problems may also cause an older diabetes patient to skip medication doses to extend a prescription.
Diabetes also puts an older adult at an increased risk of having an accident. Mobility problems may leave a person with diabetes reliant on a wheelchair, cane or walker. Those who need to use these devices are at a high risk of slip-and-fall accidents, which can cause serious injury or even death.
Why a Gerontology Degree Matters
Being prepared for these challenges puts those responsible for the care of the aging population in a better position to provide the best care possible. If you are interested in pursuing a career in gerontology, consider enhancing your existing professional degree with the University of Southern California’s specialized Master of Aging Management or Master of Arts in Gerontology degrees. These graduate degree programs focus on topics such as life span development, psychology and sociology, counseling older adults and their families, the mind and body connection through life, and end-of-life care. With this specialized training, a caretaker can better communicate clearly with those who have cognitive problems that make it hard to understand clear medical instructions, and be aware of the unique problems older adults face that could have a serious impact on medical care and treatment.