Older adults need special doctors

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A geriatrician is a physician with special training and expertise in caring for older adults, especially those with complex health problems. Like children, older adults have unique healthcare needs. As we age, our bodies change in many ways that affect our health. Among other things, we’re more likely to develop chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis and to need multiple medications (all with potential side effects). About 80 percent of adults 65 or older have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two. As we grow older it’s also harder for us to recover from illnesses.

Today, there are fewer than 7,000 practicing geriatricians in the U.S. That’s about one geriatrician for every 5,000 adults over age 65. Finding a geriatrician is likely to become even more difficult over the next 20 years, as the nation’s 77 million baby boomers reach retirement age.

To prepare for this “Aging Boom” we need to support programs that both train geriatricians and better prepare all healthcare providers to care for older adults. Until recently, the federal government’s “Title VII” geriatric health professions program did just that, by supporting geriatric education centers and young medical school faculty who trained medical students, primary care physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other providers to better meet the healthcare needs of older adults.

Unfortunately, Congress eliminated all funding for this program in late 2005. We need to restore this funding-for the sake of all older Americans.

A free referral service that helps people find geriatricians in their area is available by calling (800) 563-4916 or visiting www.healthinaging.org.

Reuben is director of the multicampus program in Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. This story provided by North American Precis Syndicate, Inc.

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