The Silver Tsunami: The Challenges in Developing an Adequately Trained Nursing Force to Meet the Rising Tide of Elderly Baby Boomers Carel D. Peterson
San Francisco State University
The Silver Tsunami: The Challenges in Developing an Adequately Trained Nursing Force to Meet the Rising Tide of Elderly Baby Boomers In what is described as a silver tsunami, the baby boomers (boomers) are turning sixty-five years old at an alarming rate (Heise, et al., 2012). Beginning in 2010 when the first wave hit, the estimated seventy-eight million baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965, are turning age sixty-five at a rate of approximately 10,000 per day (Heise, et al., 2012). Compounding the wave of boomers reaching age sixty-five, is an increase in the life expectancy and a decrease in the birthrate of Americans. These factors result in an increasing population of those over sixty-five, and a decreasing population under sixty-five to care for them (Wright, 2005). This rising tide of older Americans is expected to place a strain on the nursing profession due to several factors including: an overall shortage of nursing professionals, a shortage of geriatric-trained nurses, the aging of the existing workforce including nursing faculty, and negative attitudes of nursing students about caring for older people that leads them away from specializing in geriatric nursing (Buerhaus, Staiger, & Auerbach, 2000; Heise, et al., 2012). As a person reaches old age (sixty-five and older), their physiology changes and as a result, their healthcare needs also change. Some of these changes are visually evident such as body shape, the condition of skin or the graying of hair. What may not be so obvious are the changes that are occurring on the inside. Consideration in the nursing process, from assessment to implementation strategies, must be taken to address the physiologic changes that manifest in old age. Having a highly trained workforce that can address these needs is essential in the coming decades as the baby boom generation ages. This challenge is multifaceted, and so are the possible solutions; yet, despite the tsunami upon us, the nursing profession has yet to provide sufficiently trained resources to care for this wave of aging Americans as they enter old age in unprecedented numbers. The baby boom generation exerted a strong influence on many facets of American social policy and popular culture. This generation rejected traditional values and redefined what it means to be an American. They were pivotal in the civil rights movement, the free speech movement and women’s rights movement. In addition to political action, this group was also responsible for linking individual behavior to health with the creation of an exercise and health food movement. With a focus on an active and healthy lifestyle, many boomers continue to enjoy recreational activity into old age, earning them a reputation for the generation that refuses to age. As this cohort ages, we are seeing another new movement led by the baby boom generation; a redefinition of what it means to be old. The legendary Bob Dylan song “Forever Young” contains lyrics that reinforce this idea with the blessing “may you stay forever young” (Dylan, 1974). In his essay “Forever Young” Edward F. Ansello writes about the song, to mark Dylan’s 70th birthday suggesting that the message in the song, while intended for Dylan’s young children when originally written nearly forty years ago, applies now to the boomer generation as they age (Ansello, 2011). It is ironic that the characteristics of youth made desirable by the boomers, is now a significant factor in the lack of young nursing students interested in geriatric care because of ageism. In spite of the popular ideas about the graceful aging of the baby boom generation, the reality is that the past sixty-five years also gave rise to an obesity epidemic, a type II diabetes epidemic, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, as recently reported, boomers...
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