RICHMOND, Va. -- The Alzheimer's Association said Virginia may not have enough trained professionals to treat seniors battling Alzheimer's disease.
The association's 2022 Facts and Figures report shows Virginia would need to nearly triple the number of geriatricians in the state by 2050 to serve just 10% of those 65 and older.
There are only 113 licensed geriatricians in Virginia right now, but in 2020, data shows more than 150,000 Virginians were living with Alzheimer's. By 2025, experts estimate that number will grow to 190,000.
Dr. Faika Zanjani, an associate professor in Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Gerontology, said she wants to see more colleges and universities increasing the course requirements in her field.
"Most of the clientele that health professionals work with are older," she explained. "If you ask them, most of the people they work with are 50 plus. But if you ask them how much gerontological training they have had, they usually say one class or a credit here or there, even though most of their client population was there. So we just have to increase the training of the workforce."
Zanjani believes lack of training can often lead to misdiagnoses because healthcare professionals aren’t always able to determine what is normal aging, and what should be considered a concerning amount of memory loss.
"It's almost like having a pediatrician in the room that has actually only worked with older adults," Zanjani explained. "They're not going to understand. They're not gonna have the same sensitivity towards the developmental stages that are happening, knowing that teeth falling out is normal or knowing that having teeth falling out is not normal."
As the report details a shortage of gerontological trained healthcare professionals, it also noted last year, there were 351,000 caregivers in Virginia, who worked more than 520 million hours of unpaid care.
Zanjani said we could soon see not only a shortage of trained healthcare professionals, but also a shortage of caregivers.
"We should be expecting to live and care for ourselves independently, as our children live farther away and we have fewer of them," said Zanjani. "So we're going to have a healthcare shortage and we're going to have a caregiver shortage at this point. And we have to address this right away through more training and more accessibility to tools and knowledge and self care."
The report also looked at the number of direct care workers, such as nurse aides and nursing assistants. To meet the demand by 2028, almost every state, including Virginia, would need to double the number of direct care workers.