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Who Will Care for the Next Generation of Older Adults?


For immediate release
Date:    2002

The impact of the increasing numbers of older adults on our society was borne out by the 2000 U.S. Census, which described a "dependency ratio" of 20.5 older adults per 100 workers in 2000. By 2030, this figure is expected to grow to 35.7 per 100 workers — over one-third. According to Dr. Heather Young, director of the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging in the UW School of Nursing, this will create a "functional scarcity" among younger generations, with higher demands on fewer for informal care-giving. In addition, Young predicts that most health care in the future will occur in community settings, with individuals and their families monitoring their own health paramenters. Young believes that nurses will play a vital role in this continuing movement toward consumer-directed care. Whether working directly with older adults in clinics, care facilities or home settings, or advocating for older adults in local and national arenas, they will provide the most direct support for consumer health and life goals as our population ages, especially nurses trained in advanced geriatric care.

But what if there are not enough nurses to meet this need? Will demand outstrip supply as we continue to experience the fall-out of a nationwide nursing shortage?

At the UW, a unique partnership between the School of Nursing and a national philanthropic organization, the John A. Hartford Foundation of New York, is helping to attract more nurses to advanced studies in geriatric care. Five full scholarships are being offered to registered nurses in Washington state interested in becoming geriatric nurse practitioners, with three of the awardees beginning the program this fall. The three are not "typical" graduate students and reflect the changing face of nursing education as a second-career option, sometimes delivered to students in their own communities through distance learning technology. Although of different interests and backgrounds, they share a commitment to an often-overlooked segment of our society.

Karla Heath worked as an accountant for ten years before the experience of her grandfather's death motivated her to "make a difference" by becoming a nurse. Graduating cum laude at a time when nursing jobs were hard to find, she reluctantly took a position as a long-term care nurse and came to love it. As a nurse practitioner, Heath hopes to advocate for older adults at both the local and national level. She especially wants to help those who lack access to healthcare.

Katharine Dexter has worked in geriatrics since becoming a nurse six years ago, and just earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She feels that geriatric nurse practitioners care for a population who are often ignored because they cannot be "cured." Advance practice nurses, says Dexter, work to help older adults live healthier and more productive lives. She plans to practice "for a while" in a clinic or hospital setting and then pursue a doctorate in nursing.

Karen Gilbert lives on Lopez Island and will use distance learning technology to earn her degree. She has worked in rural northwest Washington as a hospice and home health nurse since 1988. "My work has brought me into contact with so many people living with pain, discomfort and debility," says Gilbert. "I would like to offer all patients the same opportunities for comfort and support." As a geriatric nurse practitioner, Gilbert hopes to visit patients in long-term care, private homes and clinic settings.

With innovative partnerships such as these, there is hope that Washington state and the nation may be ready to meet the needs of the next generation of older adults. The two remaining scholarships will be awarded in 2003 and 2004.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Heather Young at (206) 616-3942 or, or Dr. Margaret Dimond at (206) 685-3778 or


The University of Washington School of Nursing is consistently the nation’s No. 1-ranked nursing school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Ranked No. 3 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the UW School of Nursing is a national and international leader in improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. The school addresses society’s most pressing challenges in health care through innovative teaching, award winning research and community service.