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New developments in elder care, research to affect South County

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image Angelita Martinez, a medical technician at Sun City Senior Living, takes time out to read to some of the people in the facility’s Memory Care Unit. Penny Fletcher Photo

A new concept for learning about gerontology is being developed at Hillsborough Community College’s Ruskin campus.


SOUTH COUNTY — A new concept for learning about gerontology is being developed by Judith Nolasco, academic dean at Hillsborough Community College’s Ruskin campus. Gerontology is the scientific study of aging and its effects.
Originally Nolasco tried to create a program for people in the health care industry who take care of and/or work with the elderly. Her aim was to upgrade people in low-paying jobs to higher paying ones in a field that is growing by leaps and bounds.

With 7,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day for 19 years beginning in 2010 – a figure that was given to The Observer News in a quote from Patricia Suarez, a spokeswoman for the West Central Florida Area Agency on Aging Inc. earlier this year – there will be many centenarians in the next 40 years. Many more than have ever been on earth at the same time before.

But the course didn’t get the sign-up Nolasco had hoped.

“It was non credit, and I suppose I I aimed for the wrong market,” she said in a telephone interview July 8.

Now she’s working on an idea to create a college-credit certificate course in gerontology that would carry a degree.

“It’s completely new ground,” she said. “This is just in the idea stage right now, but I see the need.”

Because Nolasco has not seen such a course being given elsewhere, it is difficult to know just what it should entail.

Four key points she stressed were health, wellness and nutrition; depression and grief loss in later years; cultural competency and communication; and ethical and legal issues in aging.

“The intent is to provide training that would enhance occupational knowledge of anyone working with the elderly,” she explained. “Not just in the health care industry but for everyone who deals with older people. People working in banks, stores or whatever may not have knowledge of how to deal with older persons.”

Reacting to and communicating with people of different cultures is an important piece of the picture, she said.

“Different cultural attributes mean different reactions,” she added.

An advisory board of area residents has been created to help with this task and meets occasionally.

“A lot would have to be done before anything like this could come about,” she explained. The board of directors (at HCC) would have to be consulted, and state agencies and licensing could become involved.

This comes at a time when other area groups are also concentrating on how to deal with special problems of having more elderly in the population.

“Keeping them in their homes longer is always important,” Suarez said in April when interviewed about how to keep elderly people in-home instead of assisted living or nursing facilities.

Meanwhile, as the population ages, more and more people get some form of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Eric Pfeiffer, former director of the Suncoast Gerontology Center at the University of South Florida.

Material supplied by USF’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute says the institute is making great strides and hopes to have some major improvements for diagnosis and treatment of the disease by 2012.

These too should have a solid affect on residents of South County, Florida and beyond, Pfeiffer said.

According to Byrd Institute, 5.3 million people annually are currently losing their memories and their lives to Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, and this number is expected to double, and possibly triple, by mid-century as increasing numbers of people live beyond their 80s and 90s.

Half of all people who reach age 85 now develop the disease, which makes understanding its causes, diagnosis and treatment a serious problem, said Dr. Pfeiffer.

Since he has retired, Pfeiffer has written two books, one of which is titled “The Art of Caregiving in Alzheimer’s Disease,” which he considers a tremendously important topic.

“The four most important things I recommend for any caregiver are joining a caregiver’s support group; starting to share your responsibilities with someone else, which might require respite care (like taking your patient to day care a couple of times a week); taking care of yourself- getting rest and vacation and relief; and finding a definitive diagnosis and treatment for your loved one.”

Although the disease can’t be cured, it can be slowed with a combination of drugs, he said.

“I believe the best combination to be Aricept and Namenda,” he added. “Taken together I have seen many symptoms reduced and the progression slowed.”

Pfeiffer’s book may be obtained by emailing him at epfeiffe@health.usf.edu.

Sabina Raymond of Cypress Creek Assisted Living who works with the local Alzheimer’s respite care group said putting a family member in day care on a regular basis, whether for a couple of days or a couple of months, gives caregivers a chance to recuperate.

“It can be very emotional. So many families can’t face the idea of doing anything that could be permanent. Often a lead comes from a doctor or from the caregiver himself, and once they see it’s not so bad in day care they don’t hesitate to use facilities geared to taking care of their loved ones,” Raymond said.

A recent interview with officials at South Bay Hospital showed many positions, including medical technicians and pharmacists have job openings now and are expected to have even more in the future.

Between the new courses being drafted at HCC and the new studies at USF, South County could become a leader in caring for many as they enter their elder years.

People who want to find out more about courses currently available at HCC (remember: the gerontology courses are not yet in operation) may call 813-259-6150.

For more information about the Byrd Institute or its studies, research or programs, call 813-974-5697.

See related article:  Caring for caregivers is top priority

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