The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

1996 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

Gerontology Curricula

Helen M. Sorenson, BA, RRT Tuesday, November 5, 1996

Historians of aging date the invention of a new science named geriatrics to 1909. It's birthplace was New York City and it's father was an Austrian immigrant, I.N. Nascher.

Once, as a student, Nascher was making his hospital rounds when he came upon an elderly woman with many symptoms of serious illness. The teacher diagnosed her disease with terrible finality as "old age". "What can be done about it?" Nascher asked. "Nothing", he was told.

After becoming a physician, Nascher devoted himself to making the problems of old age a special branch of science, thus... geriatrics was born. Gerontology, as a social science, did not become a popular subject in the universities until the 1940's.(1)

That was then - when the older population of the United States was 4.0 million.

This is now - the 1990 U.S. census reported 31.1 million adults over age 65.

The future - projections for the year 2000, 34.8 million adults over 65, and by the year 2020, an estimated 52 million in the older population. {2}

Gerontology/Geriatrics needs to be included in the curriculum for all prospective students of respiratory care. Gerontology/Geriatrics needs to be revisited as continuing education for all practicing therapists.

There are many age-related decremental changes in the body. There are changes in metabolism, changes in vital signs, changes in lung volumes and capacities, changes in ABG values and in many other lab values. Elderly patients process and eliminate drugs differently than adults. There are psychological changes and changes in sensory acuity - both of which play a role in medication compliance. There are more elderly patients relying on home care. Many patients over the age of 65 are undergoing surgical procedures that need to be followed up with cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. As people age, the risk of acquiring a chronic disease increases. There is also a gradual change in the workplace environment of therapists, shifting from acute care, to sub-acute and restorative care and even (in some states) to nursing home care.

Concerning care of the elderly, we cannot continue to assume that respiratory care practitioners will learn "all they need to know' on the job.

This presentation is designed to describe what gerontology issues need to be included in respiratory care, and how, in a full curriculum, these components can be added to existing classes.

1. Fischer, D. H., (1978) Growing Old in America. Oxford University Press, NY 2. Atchley, R., (1994). The Demography of Aging. Social Forces and Aging, 7th ed., Belmont, CA Wadsworth.

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