With a nudge from the new health care law and pressure from Medicare, hospitals, doctors and nurses are struggling to prepare for explosive growth in the numbers of high-risk elderly patients.
More than 40 percent of adult patients in acute care hospital beds are 65 or older. Severly million Americans will have turned 65 by 2030. They include the 85-and-older cohort, the nation's fastest-growing age group.
Elderly people often have multiple chronic illnesses, expensive to treat, and they are apt to require costly hospital readmissions, sometimes as often as 10 time in a single year.
The Obama administration is spending $500 million from last year's stimulus package to support the training of doctors and nurses and other health care providers at all levels, "from college teachers through work force professionals on the front line of patient care," said Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.
But the administration and Congress seem to be paying less attention to geriatric health issues. For example, only 11 percent of research funding at the National Institutes of Health went to aging research last year.
"In every area of aging - education, clinical care, research - people just don't realize how dire the situation is," said Dr. David B. Reuben, chief of the geriatrics division of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.