As of 2010, the AMA says there were 55,509 licensed pediatricians in the United States. How many licensed gerontologists were there to address the aging population?

There were 4,278 licensed gerontologists in the U.S. in 2010. Given that there were 74.2 million U.S. people under 18, and 40.3 million people 65 or older, that works out to one pediatrician for every 1,337 patients, and one gerontologist for every 10,698 patients.

If those numbers seem woefully inadequate to serve a population that will be more than 20% over the age of 65 by the year 2050, it’s no accident. As a society, we have emphasized youth and youth culture at a time when we are aging, and medicine must adjust now.

Aging couple sitting on a park bench

Aging Experts Speak Up

Ken Dychtwald, internationally-known expert on longevity and founder/CEO of Age Wave, shared these and other startling data about our extended lifespans and how healthcare must adapt at last week’s 7th Annual Health Technology Forum Innovation Conference at Stanford University.

The change is coming through Baby Boomers whose generational challenges are confronting medicine, Dychtwald says. “This is a generation that does not like pain,” he says. “And they’re getting old and they’re about to have a lot of pain.”

Another astounding stat: two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived past the age of 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today.

Other than mass producing gerontologists, what does Dychtwald recommend to do? For starters, med school students need to take more elective courses in geriatric medicine, without regard to their area of focus.

How Technology Will Help Aging

Artificial intelligence may fill the gap. “Maybe Watson becomes the geriatric intelligence,” he says. Empowering patients to take charge of their own care is another key. Dychtwald reminded the audience that in the 1960s, physicians still wrote prescriptions in Latin on prescription pads. A few activists such as Dychtwald, enlightened doctors, and the women’s movement, helped change that and other impediments to easy-to-access medical information.As he himself ages, Dychtwald isn’t done crusading. Last fall, in part through his advocacy, the X Prize Foundation kicked off a competition to wipe out Alzheimer’s disease. “We raised $25 million on the spot to get the prize funded,” he says. As the longevity revolution continues, look for more creative thinking, and think about how you can become more involved.

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Scott Mace

Scott Mace writes about healthcare, technology and related topics such as computer security, digital identity, and workflow automation. His journalism career spans more than 30 years, writing for such media as InfoWorld, Personal Computing, Byte, Boardwatch, IT Conversations, NurseWeek, HealthLeaders, and Identiverse. In 2015, he was a recipient of a Jessie H. Neal Award, an annual national journalism competition in business reporting, for best technical content in the January/February 2014 HealthLeaders cover story, "The ROI of EHR." For six years, he also served on the international board of directors for CalConnect, the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium.

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