By 2050, the population of senior citizens 85 and older will triple in the U.S., and Medicare enrollment will exceed 92 million, an increase of 50% over the next 35 years.
The rapid growth of the elderly population means there will be a pressing need for critical care providers, including adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs), who work with older patients, ranging from young adults to frail seniors who have multiple complex diseases. AGACNPs are often found in emergency rooms, inpatient hospitals, and ICUs, dealing specifically with acute conditions that often are life-threatening.
The Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner concentration that is part of Ohio University’s online MSN program prepares students to serve and address the specific challenges of patient care for the adult population.
What Does an AGACNP Do?
Because of the aging of the massive baby boomer generation, acute-gerontology nurse practitioners are in high demand, particularly because they can work in a large array of specialty areas, including nephrology, cardiology, neurology, and surgery. AGACNPs usually work in trauma units, sub-acute care units, emergency rooms, and intensive care units where they closely collaborate with physicians and specialists.
“In addition to diagnosing and treating medical conditions, AGACNPs often provide direct patient management from the time of admission to the time of discharge,” an online article in Nurse Journal notes. “It is also typical for these nursing professionals to follow patients to the outpatient setting to ensure their transitional needs are met.”
A 2016 report from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioners defines the AGACNP as someone who “provides care to patients with acute, critical, and complex chronic physical and mental illnesses across the entire adult age spectrum, from young adults (including late adolescents), to adults and older adults (including frail older adults). Their role involves the provision of a range of services, including disease prevention, critical care to stabilize the patient’s condition, prevent complications, restore maximum health, and/or provide palliative care.” The AGACNP practice focuses on patients who are physiologically unstable, technologically dependent, or highly vulnerable to complications.
In doing this kind of work, AGACNPs must understand the health problems that develop with aging.
Challenges of Helping an Aging Population
A paper in the Online Journal on Issues in Nursing points out that “the growing disparity between the numbers of critical care providers to the numbers of patients has precipitated the increased need for adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners in critical care arenas. The expanding complexities of the critically ill patient population mandate the development of a critical-care focused, interprofessional critical care residency.”
The health care provider community, and especially AGACNPs, needs to develop an increased awareness and sensitivity to the diverse and specific needs of this aging demographic.
Helping patients optimize vision and hearing can decrease feelings of isolation, depression, and cognitive impairment. Elderly patients also benefit from resistance exercise that boosts lower extremity strength that will allow for basic daily activities, like bathing and walking. Patients over 85 also need those muscles to remain stable and prevent falls.
However, the decline and loss of immune functions, hearing, vision, and muscle are part of the normal aging process, according to “Age-Related Diseases and Clinical and Public Health Implications for the 85 Years Old and Over Population,” published in Frontiers of Public Health. The paper points out a number of syndromes and changes in this sizable senior population that will require policy and infrastructure changes, including greater emphasis on caregiver support, services in the home, and assistive technology:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes and related mobility disability
Emergency and Critical Care Services
AGACNPs play an essential role in emergency and critical care services by improving the overall patient outcome. According to the authors of “The impact of the advanced practice nursing role on quality of care, clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction, and cost in the emergency and critical care settings: a systematic review” published in the Human Resources for Health Journal, advanced practice nurses, including AGACNPs, not only allow for an increase in patients’ access to emergency and critical care services, but also improve the length of a patient’s stay, the amount of time until consultations or treatment, mortality rates, patient satisfaction, and cost savings.
Within the MSN curriculum, the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program offers four on-campus intensives. Students begin with an orientation, then progress to several clinical experiences. The AGACNP track prepares students to be eligible for certification as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner. The courses in the AGACNP concentration focus on these opportunities:
- Understand how to provide patient care for the adult population
- Study family assessment, intervention, and the management of common adult health problems
- Develop advanced clinical diagnostic and decision-making skills to improve the quality of health care for adults and those in underserved populations
- Further examine the role of acute-care nurse practitioners and their impact on progressing health services
About the Ohio University Online Master of Science in Nursing Program
The online MSN program at Ohio University is designed for practicing RNs who want to advance their expertise in the nursing field. Students in the Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner concentration take courses such as primary care of adults and management of common adult health problems.
For more information about the online MSN degree program and additional concentrations for MSN nursing careers, visit the Ohio University website.
AG ACNP competencies report: National Organization of Nurse Practitioners
Need for critical care providers report: Online Journal on Issues in Nursing
Age-related diseases in patients over 85: Frontiers in Public Health
Impact of AP nurses on care: Human Resources for Health