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America’s aging will increase demand for geriatric health workers

Americans are growing older, living longer and more likely to have health concerns. These three facts are driving demand for health workers who specialize in caring for older patients.

The field of gerontology is expected to grow as the “baby boomer” generation ages. By 2030, more than one-fifth of Americans – 70 million individuals – will be over age 65.

Older people usually require more health care, but evidence suggests the baby boomers are even more likely to seek medical attention. This post-WWII population, born between 1946 and 1964, made more than half of all doctor visits in 2001 according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

As the baby boomers age, career opportunities will grow for geriatric health workers.

That’s why older people often have multiple health concerns. A patient may be receiving treatment for high blood pressure, cataracts and back pain from three different doctors. She may be taking several different medications every day.

Geriatric health workers know how to coordinate care for their elderly patients to avoid drug interactions and improve quality of life.

Older Patients Need Specialized Care
Older people are more likely to experience chronic health problems, like heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Their risk of cancer and certain mental health issues increases. Even common conditions, like colds and broken bones, take longer to heal.

Job Growth Expected in a Variety of Health Careers

Most health workers encounter a large number of older patients, simply because old people are more likely to need health care.

Geriatric health care providers include doctors, pharmacists, mental health professionals, nurses and allied health workers who have completed advanced training in caring for older patients.

Hospitals and other health care facilities that treat older patients value specialized training in geriatrics. Demand for all types of geriatric health workers is expected to grow as America ages.

Here are some of the health careers most likely to need new workers in the next 10 to 20 years:

  • Dental laboratory technician – Older patients are more likely to require dental devices created by these highly skilled professionals.
  • Geriatric pharmacist – Pharmacists can educate patients about their medications and make sure they avoid drug interactions, which can cause serious health problems and even death.
  • Geriatric nurse – Hospitals and long-term care facilities are eager to hire nurses with specialized training in geriatrics.
  • Geriatric psychiatrist – A trained mental health professional can help elderly patients manage anxiety and depression, as well as age-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Geriatrician – A medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy who specializes in caring for older patients can quickly identify health issues and coordinate patient care. The Alliance for Aging Research estimates that 33,000 geriatricians will be needed over the next two decades.
  • Occupational therapist – These health professionals help patients with conditions such as arthritis or limited mobility caused by stroke become more independent.
  • Optometrist – The elderly are more likely to experience vision problems.
  • Physician assistant – These professionals can perform many of the routine health care services required by elderly patients at a lower cost.
  • Podiatrist – Diabetes and other health conditions can cause foot pain and other problems.

More allied health workers will be needed, as well. Respiratory therapists, cardiovascular technologists/technicians, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation specialists, radiologic technologists and home care assistant/aides typically have a high number of older patients.

Align Your Health Career Strategy with Demographic Trends

The aging of America will increase demand for a wide range of health care workers. Hospitals and other employers are likely to prefer workers with specialized training in geriatrics.

Once you know which health career you want to pursue, seek opportunities for advanced training in geriatrics and opportunities to work with older patients.

The more education and experience you have working with patients over 65, the more career opportunities you’ll enjoy.