The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 26 percent of Wisconsin’s population will be 60 and older by the year 2030, an increase of more than 36 percent from 2012. However, there’s an imbalance between the older population and professionals trained to care for them.
“There’s a small number of geriatricians in the entire state, mostly clustered in Madison and Milwaukee, and we felt it was important to be working together to prepare the health care workforce for the burgeoning population of elderly adults,” says Dr. Steven Barczi, professor of geriatrics and gerontology in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
“Geriatrics focuses on a specific population, and as with pediatrics, there should be a very different approach to care, medications, and strategies employed to promote successful aging.”
The UW is part of a statewide group that will use a federal grant of $2.55 million over three years to enhance how Wisconsin healthcare professionals are trained to care for older adults. The Wisconsin initiative is led by Marquette University in collaboration with UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Aurora Health Care, and the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Called GEAR UP for “Geriatrics Equipped And Ready for Unsupervised Practice, its goal is training “geriatrics-capable” healthcare professionals in the disciplines of internal medicine, family medicine, psychiatry, pharmacy, and social work. To do so, the team will draw on UW expertise in dementia research and outreach, unique clinical training settings at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics and the William S. Middleton Veterans Hospital, and resources at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.
“We need to make sure that we appropriately address issues like undiagnosed cognitive impairment, incontinence, falls, and bone health,’’ Barczi says. “For example, we now know that if we recognize memory problems early, we can improve the trajectory and reduce caregiver stress by addressing it as a chronic disease.”
UW faculty members involved in the project include Drs. Barczi, Alexis Eastman, Sanjay Asthana, Lisa Boyle, Irene Hamrick, and Lauren Welch. Dr. Stacy Barnes, of Marquette University, is principal investigator for the consortium.
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health