The other night, I sat down with my laptop, intent on deciding what to write about for this editorial. In the background, the late evening news was coming on. Usually, I regard whatever is on the television as simply “background noise,” but this night, one headline after another caught my attention, and I was struck by the relevance of newsworthy issues for gerontological nurses, starting with the feature story, “86-year-old Cedar County man dies from H1N1 flu.” Gerontological nurses can play a key role in educating the public about both seasonal influenza and the H1N1 variety (for obvious reasons, we avoid the label “swine flu” here in Iowa), supporting seasonal influenza vaccination efforts for adults older than age 50 and residents of long-term care settings, and encouraging older adults who become ill with flu-like symptoms to contact their health care provider immediately to determine whether treatment with antiviral agents is needed. Although people age 65 and older are at lower risk of being infected with the 2009 H1N1 than younger people, those older adults who do become infected are at greater risk for complications.
The next news item, which included an interview with a representative from our local Area Agency on Aging, noted, “Senate Finance Committee resumed consideration of its health reform bill starting its fifth day of mark-up this morning.” While an editorial cannot begin to cover all of the health care reform issues dominating the news this fall, many policy issues at the forefront will affect gerontological nurses and those for whom they care. Among them are the America’s Healthy Future Act and Senator Cantwell’s Project 2020 amendments to the Finance Committee bill. Items included in the amendments are funding for Aging and Disability Resource Centers, funding for evidence-based wellness and disease prevention programs for older Americans to reduce the necessity of institutional care, and money through the Aging Services Network for a non-Medicaid nursing home diversion program so that “spend down” to Medicaid and entry into nursing homes is prevented or delayed at the front end. Whatever your political persuasion, gerontological nurses are urged to inform themselves and become actively involved in the health care reform debate.
Following a pharmaceutical commercial for an incontinence drug, the “breaking news” item featured discovery of a methamphetamine laboratory by the sheriff’s department in a nearby rural county. Scrolling across the bottom of the screen was the headline, “70-year-old farmer and his 21-year-old grandson indicted” for manufacturing, selling, and using illegal drugs. Gerontological nurses must become more aware of the prevalence and physical and psychological aspects of substance abuse among older adults. In 2001, there were 1.7 million substance abusers older than age 50; that number is expected to more than double to 4.4 million by 2020 (Steinhagen & Friedman, 2008). This abuse is not limited to alcohol and over-the-counter or prescription drugs, and is expected to increase with the graying of the Baby Boomer generation.
Just before the news gave way to weather and sports, the “Events About Town” feature informed viewers of an “Upcoming New Horizons Band Concert,” an ensemble of people ages 54 to 93 based at the Iowa City Senior Center. Certainly the seminal work of Dr. Gene Cohen, Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University Medical Center, has informed us about the benefits of older adults remaining engaged as well as using their creative potential through a variety of media. Gerontological nurses can help older adults gain a sense of confidence and mastery in their later years through community engagement and service, ongoing learning, volunteerism, part-time work, and other activities to promote mental and physical fitness, social functioning, and overall quality of life.
Who would have guessed the 10 o’clock news would be so relevant for gerontological nurses?
Kathleen C. Buckwalter, PhD, RN, FAAN
Sally Mathis Hartwig Professor of
Gerontological Nursing Research
Director, John A. Hartford Center of
Geriatric Nursing Excellence
The University of Iowa College of Nursing
Iowa City, Iowa