Winter 2018–2019

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There’s a Shortage of Gerontologists and Geriatricians

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What does this mean for your parents? 

It is well established and highly publicized that the population of people over the age of 65 is increasing. This phenomenon is happening in the U.S. as well as around the world. The growth of the older adult population is happening now as the Baby Boomers continue to age and will increase in the future. For example, Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers suggesting that while aging is important to consider at a societal level now, it will continue to be important as cohorts with larger numbers of people age. 

For individuals working with older adults, these growth trends forecast a rising demand for professionals with expertise in aging. Expanded career opportunities are predicted for many disciplines and professions related to gerontology and geriatrics.

Gerontology is the comprehensive study of aging and the problems of the aged. Whereas geriatrics focuses strictly on the medical conditions and disease of the aging (geriatricians are medically trained doctors), gerontology is a multidisciplinary study that incorporates biology, psychology and sociology. Financial gerontologists are experts on the financial impacts of aging. Geriatric care managers are professionals who have been educated in various fields of human services — social work, psychology, nursing, gerontology — and trained to assess, plan, coordinate, monitor and provide services for older adults and their families.

While the population of the 65-plus population is on the rise, there is likely to be a shortage of trained professionals in the field of aging (gerontologists and geriatricians). For example, in 2016, there were only about 7,300 certified geriatricians in the U.S. About 30 percent of people 65 years and older will need to be cared for by a geriatrician, according to the American Geriatrics Society’s Geriatrics Workforce Policy Studies Center, but only one geriatrician can care for a patient panel of about 700 people. That means there should be at least 20,000 geriatricians for the more than 14 million older Americans living today.

There are less definitive numbers on the estimates of need for gerontologists, but as of 2015, it was estimated that there are even fewer with an approximate total of 5,000 gerontologists (those with advanced degrees in gerontology).

These shortages mean that older adults and their families will have limited access to professionals in the field of aging who have the training, education and resources to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities associated with advancing age. Older adults and families will have to work harder to seek out these professionals and perhaps pay more for their expertise and services. 

This shortage may also mean that the research and knowledge we have about living and aging well as well as creating innovative products for seniors will be limited. Services that enhance our well-being will be in short supply and high demand. Older adults and families may have less support translating this expertise and knowledge into tools that help us live well each and every day.

One of the best ways to ensure your parent gets the care he needs is to research professionals in the field far before you think your parent is ready for a gerontologist and other senior-care specialists. Schedule appointments to meet with professionals and begin to build relationships that will serve your parents for years to come.