According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 baby boomers turned 65 today. Roughly the same number will turn 65 tomorrow, and the day after that.
In fact, it is estimated that over the next decade, 10,000 people will turn 65 every single day. That’s because the baby boomer generation represents a huge bulge in the population – 76 million people born between 1946 and 1964.
As these folks reach 65, what do they want? Most want enough money so they can stop working. They also want to be healthy enough to enjoy their retirement. They don’t want to become sidelined by dementia that might put them in a nursing home.
Is medicine ready for the boomer bulge? There are not enough physicians specializing in taking care of older people today. That’s largely because primary care such as geriatrics has not been as valued or rewarded as specialties like cardiology, gastroenterology and dermatology have been.
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Over the next dozen years, the shortage will become more acute. In 2008, one of the country’s most eminent geriatricians, Dr. John Rowe, testified to the Senate that the U.S. health care system is “woefully unprepared” for the impending demand.
As people grow older, their bodies handle drugs differently. Changes in liver and kidney function make many senior citizens more sensitive to potential side effects. As a result, a medication at a dose that was just right for someone at age 50 may not be safe for the same person at 75.
Moreover, there are some medicines that may contribute to dementia. While this is not much of a concern for a 35-year-old individual with plenty of brain reserve, a 65-year-old with emerging health concerns may not have the same resilience.
One reader told of her family’s experience:
“My elderly mother had started falling so often that my siblings and I were seriously considering nursing home care. My brother gathered all her medications and took them to her doctor.
“A review of the meds showed that mom was on six different blood pressure medications. Every time the doctor changed her medication, the old one was not discontinued. Neither her doctor nor the pharmacist had caught this.
“It has now been over a year since mom’s medications were corrected. She is 92 years old. She has not fallen even once since the adjustment to her meds and is still living at home.”
Older people can easily end up on duplicative medications for a range of problems. Here is another reader’s story:
“My husband was in a beautiful, expensive rehab facility after a stroke. After only five days, he was hallucinating and became fearful and combative. I didn’t recognize this person.
“I requested a psychiatrist consultation. He said, ‘Your husband is on NINE different medications! Three would be more than enough.’
“I took my husband home and got rid of everything but his blood pressure meds. Then he got better. My point is: You, or your loved one, must be diligent at all times, and take charge of your care. Ask questions!”
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.