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Correction to This Article
This article about several ideas for accommodating the rising number of seniors and meeting their health-care needs incorrectly described a senior-living community on the Stanford University campus as built by Hyatt. It was built by Classic Residence by Hyatt, which is separate from the hotel company. The article also incorrectly said that entrance fees start at $1 million; they start at $682,700.

As older people grow in numbers, experts seek ways to handle the coming boom

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With the number of elderly people in the United States rising, more medical technology has been created to help them manage their health from home.

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By Patrick Egan
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The tsunami looms: By 2050, nearly 90 million Americans will have passed age 65, and every corner of society will feel the impact. With our inadequate health-care workforce, outmoded retirement ideas and rigid housing policies, how can our country prepare? Beyond rethinking ways to ensure retirement savings (mandatory government savings plans?) and redefining retirement (phased retirements? working longer?), researchers and professionals are trying out, and in some cases reviving, some ideas.

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From hospital halls to cyberspace: telemedicine

Imagine a 75-year-old receiving wireless medication reminders, straight to his beeping wristband. Or an 80-year-old with a new hip, linked by body sensors to a device embedded in her carpet that tracks her movement patterns in case her mobility worsens.

In the future, we are going to start seeing telemedicine "as part of the medical home," says Dale Alverson, medical director at the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research at the University of New Mexico.

Although developers and advocates have promoted telemedicine for years, Alice Borelli of Intel points to barriers -- including Medicare reimbursement policies and inadequate broadband in parts of the country -- that have kept telemedicine a mostly conceptual solution.

One supposed barrier, wariness of new gadgets, may prove unfounded. "I was shocked; they love the technology," says Laurie Chichester, who directs home-care services at the Metropolitan Jewish Health System in New York, where 170 patients use remote monitoring.

Telemedicine can't replace hospitals or nursing homes, but it can delay the need for them. "We can move 30 to 40 percent of health care to the home," Borelli says.

Curing an ailing workforce

The health-care workforce for older patients is unwell. The country must recruit millions more doctors, nurses and aides with the skills needed for a surging geriatric population.

A 2007 study showed a 20 percent decline in the ranks of certified geriatricians over 10 years; only 11 percent of medical schools require students to complete a geriatrics rotation.

So Sharon Levine, a geriatrician, leads the Chief Resident Immersion Training program at Boston University Medical Center, where doctors from across the country gather for weekend boot camps on treating the elderly.

William "Skip" Nitardy, an internist at Marshall University Medical School in Huntington, W.Va., left the immersion program with greater knowledge of delirium and more interest in treating the elderly. "They've fought the world wars and built the country, and they deserve our best," he says. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Cooperative Care provides home care by aides who are both employees and owners of the service, a possible key to retaining workers in a field known for turnover.


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