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Date: February 15th, 2007

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Alliance for Aging Research Commends Congress for Restoring Funding of Geriatric Training Programs

Washington, D.C. - The Alliance for Aging Research today commended Congress for restoring funding of geriatric training programs in the current fiscal year, underscoring the critical link between appropriate training of health care professionals and quality care for growing numbers of older Americans. 

Yesterday the Senate joined the House in passing the Joint Funding Resolution for FY 2007, which includes $31.54 million for geriatric training programs under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act. At the urging of the Alliance for Aging Research and other health advocates, Congress reversed actions a year ago that threatened the elimination of these vital programs. Once enacted, the Joint Resolution will provide funding for Geriatric Education Centers, Geriatric Health Professions Training and Geriatric Academic Career Awards at the funding level approved for fiscal year 2005. 

“We commend Members of Congress for providing a lifeline for these programs that help address the shortage of health care professionals trained in geriatrics,” said Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research. “Funding these programs makes a real difference to the health and well-being of the growing number of older Americans.” 

Providing health care to older patients requires specialized medical skills. Inadequate training in geriatric care can result in misdiagnoses, inappropriate medical treatment, and premature institutionalization in long term care. Despite the aging of 77 million baby boomers, the number of U.S. geriatricians falls far short of the need and has even declined in recent years, according to the not-for-profit Alliance. Not only are specialists in geriatrics in short supply in America, but general medical education often fails to expose physicians-in-training to the complex needs of many older patients. 

The New York Times reported in October 2006 that of 145 medical schools in the U.S. only nine have departments of geriatrics. At teaching hospitals, graduate internists receive as little as six hours of geriatric training and few other schools require geriatric courses. The results can best be illustrated by a recent Journal of the American Medical Association survey in which specialists, internists and emergency room doctors say they are unprepared to deal with end-of-life decisions, communication with family caretakers, depression, and other issues critical to the care of older patients. 

“Funding these programs is a wise investment that will result in improved quality of care and enhanced quality of life for older patients today and aging baby boomers in the years to come,” said Perry. 

The Alliance in particular praised the bipartisan efforts of the following leaders in Congress for restoring funding for geriatric medical education: Senators Harkin (D-IA), Specter (R-PA), Reed (D-RI), Lincoln (D-AR) and Hutchison (R-TX); and Representatives Obey (D-WI), Regula (R-OH), Castle (R-DE) and DeGette (D-CO). 

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Founded in 1986, the Alliance for Aging Research is a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the health and independence of aging Americans through public and private funding of medical research and geriatric education. The Alliance combines the interest of top scientists, public officials, business executives, and foundation leaders to promote a greater national investment in research and new technologies that will prepare our nation for the coming senior boom, and improve the quality of life for today’s older generation.