January 2011 marks a significant milestone for the Baby Boomers
generation when its first members – born in 1946 – begin the year in which they
will celebrate their 65th birthdays. The Boomers’ transition into the
years that traditionally denote the beginning of senior citizenship and the
resulting demands on our nation’s health care system. Stephen G. Jones,
MD, a geriatrician and expert in gerontology and director of the Center for
Healthy Aging at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Conn., said the impact of
these Geri-Boomers on the American health care system will be significant.
“It is wonderful news that we are living longer,
but it also creates an entirely new set of challenges,” Jones stated in a
press release. “The face of medicine is going to start to change rapidly
because of this transition.”
One of the forthcoming issues, according to Jones, is
the shortage of doctors trained to care for an aging population. Low insurance
reimbursements rates have reduced the ranks of doctors seeking Geriatrics
training. In 2007 only 91 American-trained doctors sought specialty in
geriatrics compared to 167 in 2003 and spots in many fellowship programs were
While the care burden, in many instances, falls on the
shoulders of primary care physicians, they, too, are facing similar challenges
to keep their practices solvent and viable.
According to Jones, boomers will number 70 million by
2030, making them the oldest generation of seniors in history. The children of
geri-boomers will struggle to manage care for multiple generations in their
families. Rather than the sandwich generation, which refers to adults caring
for both their parents and their children, Jones refers to the “Club
Sandwich Generation,” as more adult children will be faced with the
responsibilities of caring for their parents and sometimes grandchildren.
Longevity is advancing faster than our ability to keep
up with the diseases of aging. Arthritis, orthopedic problems and chronic
illnesses will increasingly burden the population and the health care system.
Alzheimer’s disease, which impacted about 4.5
million Americans in 2000, will more than double in incidence by the year 2030,
and is likely to reach epidemic proportions by 2050. To put this illness in
perspective: A new case is diagnosed every 71 seconds and one out of eight
Americans 65 years and older will be diagnosed. The statistics are more
staggering for those 85 years and older where one out of two seniors in this
age range faces a possible diagnosis.