Baby boomers get help with aging

Baby boomers are getting older fueling the need for more innovative ways to address aging and keep the generation as active and healthy for as long as possible. St. Luke's University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network are tackling the task head-on with more team care and preventive measures.

Dr. Catherine Glew, chief of geriatrics at Lehigh Valley Health Network, said there are 77 million baby boomers in the United States and 10,000 of them are turning 65 years old every day.

"We want to keep them as functional as possible, as autonomous as possible and in the best health," Glew said.

Geriatrics is the area of medicine dealing with diseases of aging and old age, said Dr. Alaa-Eldin A. Mira, Chief of Geriatrics at the St. Luke's Center for Positive Aging in Bethlehem.

"People think we're dealing with frail older patients in nursing homes but we also deal with how to keep older adults healthy and independent as long as possible," he said.

Anyone age 65 or older is encouraged to visit the Center for Positive Aging, which St. Luke's opened three years ago, for a comprehensive assessment, including a two-hour vetting process, review of medical records and physical activity, review of medications, function, balance, depression, hearing and more. Mira said those with symptoms of aging, such as memory loss, should go in with their family members and explore what they're experiencing and how it can be best treated. Those in good health should go in to undergo an assessment and develop a plan for optimal health. The center offers a social worker who can help patients enter programs through the Area Agency on Aging and other local resources to live the best older years possible for them.

Mira said baby boomers are a different generation — they tend to be more healthy overall and want to stay that way, so often diet and exercise are the main focus. He says it is key to stay active physically, mentally and socially to decrease the risk of dementia.

"We look at that generation differently and how they can continue to be healthy using preventive medicine," he said.

The Center for Positive Aging offers on-site CT scans, blood tests and hearing assessments. A team of nurses and physicians and physical therapists works together "to come up with a comprehensive care plan."

Two weeks after the assessment, the Center for Positive Aging team brings the patient back in, sometimes with family members, to discuss the team's recommendations line by line.

LVHN offers its own multi-pronged approach to aging care. The network is part of the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Project through the Health Resources and Services Administration, which targets baby boomers in an effort to improve their knowledge on aging. The federally funded project sends guided care nurses to six area primary care physician's offices to review the health issues of their elderly patients and help link those people with services.

"Everyone understands good geriatric care is interdisciplinary care," Glew said.

The network has been named a NICHE hospital, or Nurses Improving Care of Healthsystem Elders, because it participates in a specific nurse-driven program aimed at ensuring adults over age 65 receive appropriate care when in the hospital. There are 120 geriatrics resource nurses in the health network who visit patients bedside in various departments to ensure their geriatric needs are being met to maximize their function.

"Units were calling and saying, 'Please, can we be a part of this?" Glew said.

Many elderly patients come through the Transitional Skills Unit at 17th and Chew streets in Allentown for physical rehabilitation before returning home after surgery or an injury. A team of geriatricians, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, case managers and individual care nurses gathers to discuss the full spectrum of health issues facing each patient.

"As a group we all talk about what's going on and things we need to do," Glew said. "If you really want a good outcome, that's the way to go."

Glew is excited about a new initiative in elderly home care that will function like the network's Community Exchange Program. Volunteers contribute an hour of their services in the program and in turn can receive an hour from someone else. The network plans to recruit college students and retired nurses to participate in the exchange to offer home caregivers a break. Volunteers might fill pill boxes or take the patient to appointments.

"We want to provide a few hours of respite for caregivers to relax a couple of hours," Glew said.

There are many options for care in the region, such as short-stay rehab facilities, personal care homes, active adult communities, continuing care retirement communities, providing many options for patients' elder years. LVHN collaborates with 20 facilities to make sure a patient has a seamless transition for his or her needs and level of care.

"The future of geriatric care has to be in the community because that's where patients want to be," Glew said. Many baby boomers are well informed compared with previous aging generations and have a great wish to remain at home. "The trick is going to be helping them achieve that."

Source: The Morning Call

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