PORTLAND, Ore. (KFSN) --In less than 15 years, more than 31 million Americans will already have celebrated their 75th birthday. But the number of geriatricians, doctors who specialize in caring for the elderly, is failing to keep up. In fact, there are only 7,400 board certified geriatricians in the entire US and, that disparity can ... and is ... having some serious medical consequences.
Phyllis Wolfe has been hiking for years, discovering fun in different corners of the world. But one key discovery the 76-year-old Oregonian made several years ago was the importance of having a geriatrician care for her as she ages.
Wolfe told Ivanhoe, "They know what exercises we should do. They know what we should eat. They know everything that we need to know in order to have a healthy old age."
Geriatricians like Elizabeth Eckstrom, MD, MPH, Associate Professor and Director of Geriatrics at the Oregon Health and Science University, are in short supply. The federal institute of health calls it an "impending crisis." Dr. Eckstrom says one of the biggest things missed by primary care doctors is dementia.
She said, "As much as 80 percent of the time dementia is missed in a primary care visit. It's huge! And it's one of the most important diseases of our culture right now."
The biggest tip geriatricians have for aging Americans and their families: don't be scared to talk-- or to ask questions.
"They're scared to say their balance is off and that they're afraid they're going to fall. So, my absolute top tip is to talk about it. Talk to your family. Talk to your doctor-- talk to whoever your provider is, so that you can get some assistance," Wolfe said.
Besides her doctor's expertise, Phyllis appreciates one key thing geriatrician's offer.
She said, "They take time for you, and we need the time when we get older, because we're a little slower to think about what we want. And they give us lots of time."
Dr. Eckstrom details more questions and answers about what aging patients should be talking about with their doctors in her book "the gift of caring."
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