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Aging is difficult for anyone to go through, but it is presenting a special challenge as the nation prepares for the baby-boomer generation to fall into the country's "older Americans" category. In preparing for this situation, a study has come up showing that there are just not enough mental care providers that work specifically with the elderly.
In addition to common mental illnesses, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, many in the medical community are concerned about the use of illicit drugs in the baby boomer generation. Dr. Gary Kennedy, who is the director of geriatric psychiatry with Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, is even quoted as saying "the reality is the Woodstock Generation has come of age." Many people from the generation have experienced effects of marijuana and psychedelics, as well as many other recreational drugs, that some still continue to use. The problem with this is as the generation ages and has more physical problems, the more prescription medications they will be required to take. The mix of illicit drugs and prescription medications can cause adverse effects and make a tough medical situation that much more complicated.
Another issue of concern is use of alcohol. Alcohol does not carry the major stigma that illicit drugs do, so more people feel comfortable with drinking and some find it easier to neglect to acknowledge they have a problem. Like illicit drugs, the combination of alcohol with prescription medication can cause harm, but while most are aware of this, it is often ignored.
The "silver tsunami" as the aging wave is being called, will put a strain on an already stretched-thin health care system. In addition to many of the mental issues this generation will face, it is confirmed that the field of gerontology does not have enough practitioners to cover the demand that is creeping up on them. This is not just true for geriatric mental illness providers, but the geriatric medical community as a whole. With fewer staff and specialists to provide for this generation, a plan is already underway to correct the problem. This report states that a major overhaul of the healthcare system must happen and happen fast. One author of the report, Dr. Peter Rabins of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, alluded that those in the gerontology field are not necessarily trained for mental illness and those in the mental illness field are not specifically trained for gerontology. He suggests that there should be cross-training between the two groups, as well as training for in-home and facility care providers and their support staff too.
With growing healthcare costs and the impending "older American" status of the baby-boomers, there is much to think about and adjust to. The massive amounts of people in this generation was already expected to put a strain on the healthcare system, but being unprepared to take care of the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, could result in a disastrous ending. Time will tell if we are able to handle these issues. It is important that everyone works together to come up with a solution.
Sources:USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-07-10/aging-mental-health/56132426/1 US News/ World Report & Health Day http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/07/10/aging-boomers-mental-health-woes-will-swamp-health-system-report Yahoo News http://news.yahoo.com/baby-boomers-mental-health-faces-crisis-report-says-171150148.html Institute of Medicine http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=13400