Experts Warn Country not Ready for First Round of 2011 Baby Boomers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Experts say the first round of baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. They also fear the country is not ready to meet their demands, medically or socially.

According to geriatricians at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, baby boomers are aging in waves that they call the Silver Tsunami. Specialized services that include medical care, facilities to accommodate active lifestyles, geriatricians, nurses, therapists, social workers, dieticians and community caregivers are sorely needed as the first round turns 65.

Richard Allman, M.D., professor and director of the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care says, “National estimates cite approximately 7,000 geriatricians currently certified to care for the rapidly growing boomer population. Yet our society will need more than 20,000 geriatricians to accommodate the increasing demand for specialized care.”

Between 2010 and 2050 the number of people age 65 and older will double, and the over age 85 population will quadruple and with a unique aging population of baby boomers comes the need for change.

Andrew Duxbury, M.D., a UAB geriatrician says, “The boomers, with their health and vitality relatively intact into older age, will completely change how Americans conceive of what it means to be old. In twenty years, Cher, still looking the same as today, will be on her 10th farewell tour, your average senior citizen’s dance will have couples getting down to the Rolling Stones and 80-somethings will be riding their Harleys at Sturgis.”

Duxbury says the beginning of the Silver Tsunami means accommodating active lifestyles for a generation that is unlikely to put up with aches and pains and all day doctor visits. He expects joint replacement and bypass surgeries to skyrocket.

He says the needs of baby boomers have been ignored and new public policies are of major importance. “The boomers have always gotten what they want when they want it, with the demographic numbers to push society to accede to their demands.”

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Allman says, “Doctors alone don’t deliver geriatric care. You’ve got to have a team to optimize the quality of life for older people."

He says society thinks "...of aging as dying and not living. 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.”

It's not just medical care either says Allman, who also says there is a need for buildings and transportation facilities that can accommodate an aged society.

“We need public policy experts who know the impact of changing policy on health care costs, Social Security and retirement plans,” he says. “We need sociologists who understand the risk of intergenerational conflict and psychologists engaged in aging work. And clearly we need optometrists and dentists and therapists and medical people in every discipline.”

The geriatric experts say baby boomers will be with us until 2080 and public policies are needed to meet the demands of generations known to make their own history.

The start of the Silver Tsunami as the first round of baby boomers turns 65 in 2011 means more community caregivers, medical personnel, geriatricians, psychologists and even new educators to train older workers to perform new tasks.

University of Alabama

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