More than 76 million American children were born between 1945 and 1964 — the era known as the Baby Boom. And on Jan. 1, 2011, the first of those Baby Boomers turn 66 years old.
The Boomers make up the largest group of people born in a 20-year period in history and as they age, they will need specialized geriatric care. While the number of Baby Boomers is high, the number of geriatricians available to care for them is low, and there is concern the aged population will not receive the focused care needed unless more health-care providers are properly trained.
UAB’s Center for Aging is a world leader in improving the health and well being of older adults and their families, and it is committed to training a new generation of health providers to care for the unique needs of older adults.
The center is hosting the “Dancing with the Silver Stars” fundraising event Monday, Nov. 1 at The Club to raise funds to help recruit and train geriatric care specialists. Professor and dean emeritus Mary Lynne Capilouto, D.M.D., and Doug Tilt, M.D., professor of internal medicine, are two of the local celebrity dancers for the event. Alacare Home Health & Hospice and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama are primary sponsors. Visit http://medicine.uab.edu/76388/ to buy tickets.
“We’re excited about the opportunity it gives us to promote the Center for Aging and bring awareness to the short supply of specialists in geriatric care nationwide and in our community,” says Richard Allman, M.D., director of the Center for Aging. “National estimates cite approximately 7,000 geriatricians certified to care for a rapidly growing Boomer population, with more than 20,000 needed to accommodate the increasing demand for specialized care.
“The support from the “Dancing with the Silver Stars” event will make a tremendous impact on our efforts to equip area providers with the tools and resources required to improve the health and well-being of older adults in our community and beyond,” Allman says.
The number of people age 65 and older will double between 2010 and 2050, with the number of those 85 and older increasing four-fold.
Because 90 percent of older people have at least one chronic condition (i.e. lung or heart disease, diabetes, hypertension) and 25 percent of those have four or more chronic diseases, it is critical to have health-care specialists with expertise related to aging and age-related issues, including transitions of care, medication management, family support and care environment.
“In geriatrics, if you’re going to have outstanding doctors caring for older people and their complex problems, you need people who understand medicine, have the skills to be able to talk with families, other team members in the community and work with family members to develop a plan to optimize a person’s health,” Allman says. “You need the best family/internal medicine doctors who have outstanding medical skills, and you need people who know how to interact with others, negotiate a team process and work with the team to develop a plan to enable an older adult to be independent. That’s why we need the best and brightest students in geriatrics.”
Allman says the need for specialized caregivers for geriatrics extends beyond doctors, and the Center for Aging stresses the need for a teamwork approach that includes nurses, therapists and community caregivers.
“Doctors alone don’t deliver geriatric care,” Allman says. “You’ve got to have a team to optimize the quality of life for older people. We’re recruiting students who are dentists, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, optometrists, psychologists and a number of other disciplines.”
Allman says there is no public policy issue of greater importance than aging. The problem, he says, is that people don’t want to talk about it. Allman says part of his mission — and the Center for Aging’s mission — is to make discussing aging mainstream.
“There is institutional and cultural ageism, and people don’t want to talk about it,” Allman says. “They think of aging as dying and not living. That’s not what we’re about. We’ve got to change the culture and get people embracing the fact that aging is a good thing. If you’re aging, you’re still alive, and we really want to emphasize that people can live with high levels of function and capability. The more well-trained geriatricians we have, the more possible it is to make this a reality.”