Who Will Care For Us? A look at geriatricians in an aging society

The Silver Tsunami

Less than 3% of doctors have even 1 hour of training in geriatrics, according to Dr. Neil Resnick in an interview on ABC News. There are only about an estimated 6,000 geriatricians in the US and that number is declining as the needs are increasing. Alliance for Aging Research estimates that by the year 2030, costs of caring for elderly Americans will represent more than half of all healthcare dollars. As the largest generation of baby boomers ages and life expectancy increases, our aging society is facing the largest boom of seniors in its history. According to the Pew Research, “roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 today, and 10,000 more will cross that threshold every day for the next 19 years.” The question becomes, who will care for this increased population?

Why a Geriatrician?

While we tend to think of our primary care doctors as addressing the medical needs of adults, it is important to have age-appropriate care at the early and later phases of our lifespan. To understand why we might want a geriatrician, we have to begin with the what. Geriatrics is a sub-specialty of internal medicine and geriatricians are trained to address the medical, social, and psychological issues that concern older adults. As we age, it becomes important that this specialist understands the complexity of multiple conditions and how they interact with one another. Just as a pediatrician is trained to be sensitive to the ways in which children need different care and have different reactions to treatment, a geriatrician is going have those specialized sensitivities to how the bodies of aging adults react differently from adults. It is also crucial to have a guide to help distinguish between the effects of normal aging and the onset of abnormal problems.

Geriatric medicine plays a huge role in the web of care that seeks to increase safety, well-being, and quality of life for aging adults. While aging is a natural part of the human experience, it is important that geriatricians help make the process more manageable. Key goals in treating aging adults are to help them retain the strength and health that they do have and manage their chronic illnesses so they can engage physically and emotionally in their lives. This engagement in life is what is commonly referred to as quality of life.

A Changing Culture 

Dr. Williams Thomas, a geriatrician and prominent voice in aging care, has hypothesized that much of this rarity around geriatricians is the result of ageism. Doctors are often led to more glamorous and well-thought of specializations that pay more.  As a culture, we are often focused on anti-aging treatments and tend to associate ability with value. We fear aging and refuse to look at its potentials in human development and leave very little space for the elderly in society.

As a private care management and home care firm, we are often standing in the gaps of the healthcare system and augmenting general healthcare with the eldercare expertise that is so lacking in our hospitals.   As our society comes of age, how will we recognize and accommodate the changes? How will our beliefs about aging practically shape the type of society we become and the way we address our needs? These are just a few of the questions we are asking here at Sound Options. Join the conversation online and comment to tell us what you think at www.Facebook.com/SoundOptionsTacoma.  

Published on February 28, 2014.