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Address geriatric care issues now, say experts

Sep 25, 2012 - By Becky Orr, For The Associated Press

With Wyoming's population projected to become the fourth-oldest in the nation within 20 years, the state needs to consider today how it will provide funding for future services for older residents.

Experts in elder care say it's important to take time now to better understand available resources and how and older person could use them.

More geriatric care also will be needed. The state is not ready for a major increase in older populations, said Christine McKibbin, director of the Wyoming Geriatric Education Center at the University of Wyoming.

Wyoming isn't alone.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found the United States is "woefully unprepared" for the challenges of the aging population, she said.

65-plus group to double

The Census Bureau expects the national population of those 65 years old and older to climb to 88.5 million by 2050 from 40.2 million in 2010.

Many seniors function at a very high level and are healthy, McKibbin said. For others, their needs can be fairly complex.

The Wyoming Geriatric Education Center recently surveyed health care providers in Wyoming. Of the 214 responses, a large percentage said at least 25 percent of their caseloads are 65 years old and older. But 80 percent of these health care workers lacked formal training in geriatrics.

The center provides education to health care professionals and those training for future care in geriatrics. It soon will help train professionals about Alzheimer's disease. The free training will be offered at workshops across the state and a webinar series this fall.

Specialists needed

Wyoming also needs to recruit more geriatric specialists, McKibbin said.

Getting more of these specialists is difficult because of additional training costs and low pay relative to other disciplines. The specialty needs better reimbursement of care to help make it a more viable career choice, she said.

Is this a problem? Some say not really.

Dick O'Gara, a Cheyenne economist, said he agreed with the population projections. "But I don't view this as a potential crisis. I think the market forces will address the issues," he said.

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