Ask any mayor, business person, or volunteer coordinator what they’d find most valuable to help their organization grow and their answers would probably focus on a single word: resources. The “three Ts”—time, talent, and treasure—go a long way toward allowing individuals, groups, and even whole communities to operate to their fullest potential. And they’re increasingly important in cases where “demand” must keep up with “supply.”
That’s certainly true for healthcare professionals who are working to keep innovation apace of growth for the older adult population in the U.S. By 2030, the number of people 65-years-old or older in America will exceed 70 million—double the number of older adults in 2000. These men and women will need specially trained professionals who understand how to address the complex healthcare needs of older adults.
Unfortunately, federal budget cuts have impacted not only the number of opportunities for current and future health professionals, but also the research needed to increase and improve our knowledge of aging.
Results of an American Geriatrics Society survey1 reveal how these budget cuts have created serious problems for geriatrics health professionals and the older adults they care for:
- Job Loss. Nearly 60% of professionals who responded to the survey reported that, in the last five years, federal budget cuts or breaks in grant programs resulted in faculty or research staff lay-offs or the elimination of certain research programs. Specially trained researchers, statisticians, administrative staff, and research nurses were among those most affected. Sadly, these men and women are essential to pushing science and research forward.
- Investigator Anxiety. The AGS survey indicated that 87% of respondents were also “very” or at least “moderately” worried that funding issues would prevent them from maintaining labs or research programs in the next 10 years. These concerns could discourage experienced and promising young researchers from pursuing careers in geriatrics.
- Decreased Full-Time Positions. The vast majority of survey participants reported that the number of full-time positions they could offer for people committed to aging research decreased or stayed the same compared to 2008 levels. Little or no job growth can put important advancements at risk and result in fewer young scholars dedicating themselves to working with older adults.
Investments in Aging Research Yield Success
Despite these concerns, federally funded research continues to improve the health of older Americans by creating new models for healthcare, diagnostic methods, and treatment options. Respondents to the AGS survey cited many examples of advances arising from federally funded research, including:
- The Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). Developed by Dr. Sharon Inouye and colleagues at the Yale University School of Medicine, this cost-effective program for hospitals is designed to prevent delirium (a temporary state of agitation and a common problem among older patients after surgery or during illness). Delirium can lead to serious and costly complications including falls, prolonged hospital stays, nursing home placement, declines in function, and even death. HELP works by keeping hospitalized older people oriented to their surroundings, meeting their needs for nutrition, fluids, and sleep, and keeping them active as safely as possible. Funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and subsequently supported by private foundations and philanthropy, HELP has been implemented at more than 200 hospitals worldwide; more than 500,000 older people have benefitted since its creation.
- Grace Team Care™. A model of geriatric care for low-income seniors and their physicians, Grace Team Care was developed by Dr. Steven Counsell and colleagues at Indiana University (IU). This innovative, patient-centered healthcare program is designed for people who have complex medical and social needs and who receive care across several different platforms and locations. GRACE has improved quality care and outcomes and has lowered medical care costs. The program received funding from the Veterans Health Administration to expand to care clinics at three VA medical centers. The IU GRACE Training and Resource Center, led by Dawn Butler, has helped start GRACE or portions of the model in healthcare systems across five states. To date, more than 4,000 older people have benefitted from GRACE Team Care at these diverse locations.
1 Based on a survey commissioned by the American Geriatrics Society to better understand the impact of federal budget cuts to aging-related research on researchers, institutions, and progress. The survey was circulated in December 2013 and received 64 responses by January 2014.