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Doctor: Geriatric Needs Not Being Met In Missouri

Rosmary via Flickr

Missourians are getting older, but their access to health care is not keeping up.

In October, a Missouri Foundation for Health report found a need for more geriatric specialists in the state. In 2011, Missouri had 139 geriatric doctors. The report predicted that the state would need 558 by 2030.

It’s a problem that can be addressed with money and training, said Dr. John Morley, director of Saint Louis University School of Medicine’s division of geriatric medicine.

“Sixty-eight percent of the people in training at the moment for geriatrics are international medical graduates,” Morley told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “Americans do not want to look after their old people, regardless of what they want to say.”

Australia and Europe, for example, pay geriatric specialists very well, and successfully attract people to those jobs, Morley said. In the U.S., “physicians are trained to look after people at 20 to about 60, and they do a wonderful job. But things change as you get older,” he said.

While geriatricians are needed, so are those who specialize in geriatric care, including dentists and dental technicians, psychologists, and nutritionists, Morley said. “Dentistry is an absolute major need for older people,” he said. Depression occurs in 11 percent of older men and 18 percent of older women in Missouri, he said, and often is not addressed.

Access to geriatric care is even more difficult to come by in rural Missouri.

“Finding a geriatrician in a rural area may not be impossible, but very close to it,” Morley said. He said there’s a similar problem in inner cities.

Morley offered three tips to stay healthy: “You need to exercise, and you need to do resistance exercise — to exercise until your arm hurts, that’s what builds muscle. Resistance exercise is absolutely key. The Mediterranean diet with excess olive oil. (And) keeping your brain active. There are lots of brain games out there, but you don’t need those. You need to just do things that keep your brain active.”

On his don’t-do list: “Self-diagnosis or listening to Dr. Oz may be the two most dangerous things,” Morley said. A Senate panel on consumer protection, led by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, scolded Dr. Mehmet Oz in June for his TV talk show’s enthusiasm for “miracle” weight loss cures.

Falling for drug ads also makes Morley’s don’t list: “Lots of them are nonsense,” he said.

Geriatric care really comes down to quality of life, Morley said, and acceptance.

“It turns out that if you go into an end of life care hospice program, you’re going to live about six months longer than if you hang out till the last minute trying to get your oncologist to cure the incurable,” Morley said. “End of life care is extremely important. It should start about five years before you’re going to die, not, as it often does in the United States, a couple of weeks when the oncologist gives up. When we maintain quality of life, people actually live longer.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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