Date: July 1st, 1999
Ever wonder whether the doctor treating your parent, older relative or friend, or you, if you happen to be over 65, has any special training in treating older people? The chances are pretty good they don't. Despite the achievements of modern medicine, too many health professionals misdiagnose, overlook, or dismiss illnesses in older people as the "normal process of aging." Aside from the suffering this ignorance causes patients, it also burdens society with tremendous costs--such as the $70 billion in unnecessary hospital stays that is spent every year.
What accounts for this jeopardy that we put our elderly in? A big reason is the nation's lack of qualified geriatricians--doctors who are specially trained to recognize how diseases and drugs affect older people. Although students entering medical school today can expect to spend about half of their time after graduation seeing patients who are at least 65 years of age, a mere fraction of medical schools offer significant training in geriatrics. This situation is a prescription for disaster. Poised though we are for the graying of Baby Boomers, fewer than one percent of American doctors are certified in geriatric training. Their numbers must at least triple in order to meet future needs.
Here at the Alliance, the Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholars in Aging Research Program and the AlliedSignal Award for Research on Aging are addressing this quiet but critical health care crisis. The Beeson Program provides money, mentors, and motivation to rising research stars who study aging closely. The AlliedSignal award provides funding for those researchers pushing the envelope of discovery in aging. Both programs have already produced critical insight and led to strides in battling the aging process and devastating illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and osteoporosis--gains that will one day benefit you and your loved ones. In addition, the Alliance's steady contact with major media is continually aimed at bringing the issue of the geriatrician shortage to the attention of our national leaders.
You can play a small but important role in the work of the Alliance by answering the survey question in this issue of Living Longer and Loving It! The information you provide will be important to our efforts to fight for more health care professionals with substantive training in geriatrics. By working together in this way, I know we can make a difference in this issue which is so vital and fundamental to the health of older people.
Thank you very much. I hope you enjoy this issue of Living Longer and Loving It!