The future of geriatric education

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking with the Research in Aging luncheon at the Schroeder Center for Healthcare Policy and Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy of the College of William and Mary. Our topic was “Is Geriatric Education Still Needed? Evaluation and Policy Issues”. A broad spectrum of educators was represented and we had a fertile discussion of geriatric education. In the end though, none of us could find a good answer to the paucity of geriatric education in the health disciplines. We know we have a growing aging population. We know health care providers receive relatively little training on how to care for older persons. Yet, geriatric education is a one of the more difficult trainings to sell. Perhaps Dr. Christine Jensen, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Psychology and Public Policy Researcher at the College of William & Mary, offered a key insight. Her comments noted the breadth of concerns in aging and geriatrics and that the need for training has moved from a broad-based general education on aging to a need for specific topic training right when it is needed by the health care provider, such as behavioral issues in dementia, palliativecare, care coordination. I think she may be right, but we still express our fear, as many of us move toward retirement, that the up and coming practitioners will not know enough about aging to manage our care the way we desire — with knowledge of health and knowledge of aging.

Growth in graduate students

Dean Doug Boudinot informed us today that the number of graduate students, in both masters and PhD programs, is increasing at VCU. We, in the Doctoral Program in Health Related Sciences are pleased to be a part of that growth, especially in the number of PhD students specializing in Gerontology. We have 16 Gerontology students in the PhD program. Gerontology has one of the larger components of students in the PhD program. Well, 13 actually, at this time. Three have graduated — Dr. Mary Corrigan, Dr. Priscilla Munro, Dr. Myra Owens. And Mary Ligon has successfully completed the initial defense of her dissertation proposal so we fully expect to have four graduates by next May. In the next few years we expect to double the number of doctoral students at VCU and I expect our Doctoral Program in Health Related Sciences will be a piece of that increase. I also expect the number of Gerontology PhDs will increase. And it’s all so good. We are succeeding, in Dr. Ayn Welleford’s words, in our goal to gerontologize the world, one student at a time.

How long will you live?

Not an easy question to answer. Today’s Wall Street Journal (a surprisingly excellent source of material on aging issues) explores the difficulties of planning to make your money last as long as you live. What many people don’t realize is that the longer you live, the longer your life expectancy. So, for example, many baby boomers life expectancy at birth was somewhere in the mid-70s age range. But for those same people, as they approach 65 — the first Baby Boomers — turn 65 in 2011 — their life expectancy has increased. Their life expectancy at 65 begins to approach the mid-80s. Ten more years. Ten more years that they need money for, ten more years for them to contribute to the society. So what will we do with 20 years of retirement living as the norm?