Medicine for older age: training for the future, not the present

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Today sees the launch of a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit [1], supported by Pfizer, examining healthcare provision for an ageing European population. This study used data from over 1000 healthcare professionals from across the continent and interviews with 22 international experts on ageing. The report finds that there should be a greater investment in preventive healthcare, better integration of existing health and social care services, highlights the issue of ageism in the treatment of older people and a focus on medical training on the future, rather than present, needs of the population.

The argument for future-focussed medical training is that for the most part, current medical training is “geared up to a world where it’s all about young people”[2], whereas the future healthcare needs of an ageing population will require a greater amount of attention and care to be given to older people. In particular, treatment for older people with more than one chronic disease will become the norm. As such, training for future healthcare professionals needs to adapt to the demographic they will be treating once qualified, and the common issues for that group.

There has been an historic reluctance to focus on ageing in medicine, and it is an issue often left solely to geriatricians. The Economist Intelligence Unit report suggests the inclusion of specialised education in ageing health during doctors and nurses’ training. Perhaps there is also an argument for the despecialisation of geriatric medicine alongside this improved education for other medical streams. If the majority of patients to be treated are going to be ageing, why should the majority of the staff treating them not be trained in ageing health? Having old age-specific medicine as part of the mainstream of a traditional medical education more closely reflects the needs of future patient demographics.

It need not be the case to throw out the wealth of knowledge and experience of the geriatric field, but rather to ensure a full understanding of ageing health by all medical professionals regardless of field or specialism. In this way we can ensure that our medical staff are fully prepared for the patient demographic challenges that lie ahead.

Jessica Watson

[1] A new vision for old age – Rethinking health policy for Europe’s ageing population, The Economist Intelligence Unit
[2] Professor David Oliver, quoted in A new vision for old age, p.8

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