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As U.S. Ages, Health Care May Need to Change
Date:12/31/2009

Elder boom could strain resources with not just more but sicker residents,,

THURSDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- America is getting older, and experts say the nation's health-care system is not prepared to deal with the coming "elder boom."

The oldest members of the 78-million-strong baby-boom generation are about to turn 65. And in the next three decades, the proportion of U.S. residents older than 65 will double, according to a report on the elder boom by the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

But it's more than a numbers game. Baby boomers are expected to enter old age with an array of chronic illnesses that will require high-cost medical treatment.

Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, said that the obesity epidemic in the United States has spurred an increase in diabetes and all of the chronic conditions that accompany that disease. Nonetheless, he explained, people are living into old age in growing numbers because medical science has developed ways to overcome their bad health habits.

In addition, growth in the elderly population will mean an increase in all of the conditions that normally come with old age: heart disease, cancer, dementia, lung disease, stroke and arthritis.

"We have the unfortunate combination of the greatest life expectancy in United States history coupled with a worse burden of chronic disease," Katz said. "We're living longer because we're very good with medical technology at preventing death, but we're certainly not living healthy lives."

To meet this challenge, health care might have to change in fundamental ways.

For example, only about 7,128 physicians are certified geriatricians, specialists in dealing with the health and problems of old age, according to the Institute of Medicine report "Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce," released in 2008. If nothi
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