"The Geriatric Imperative" by Allen Weiss, MD, CEO & President

Dr. ALlen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR

by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
President & CEO, NCH Healthcare System

November 6, 2006 - What is the fastest growing age group in America today? This may surprise you but the over 85 year old group wins the prize for both size and use of healthcare. Why is this important? Currently, eleven percent of Americans are over age 65. That number will almost double by the year 2025. Medicare makes eleven percent of all its payments on behalf of individuals who are in their final year of life. So we have a growing, expensive group who will need more and more care as technology continues to prolong life. Making matters appear even more critical is the fact that five percent of people over age 65 have some form of dementia and this percentage will double every five years calendar years beyond 65. Not something to look forward to as we grow old.

Healthy aging is an attractive concept. And the good news is that it is completely do-able! The number of centenarians living in the U.S. today is estimated to be close to 75,000 and is expected to triple by 2020.

Senior citizens who stay engaged in mentally and physically stimulating activities seem to age better than those who are chronically over weight, inactive and/or consume excess alcohol. Some theories on healthy aging suggest that a low-calorie diet prolongs life. Studies on the use of anti-oxidants and growth hormones have had inconclusive results. What has been shown to be effective is mentally stimulating games and puzzles such as crosswords, sudoku, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and so on. Learning a foreign language is probably one of the most stimulating activities for an older person. This would be a nice goal for everyone since our nation is so diverse. Other mind-stimulating activities or studies could include creative writing, cooking, painting, computers, photography, history, and, of course, just good old enjoyable reading. In addition, an individually-geared exercise program is essential. Both Wellness Centers of the NCH Healthcare System cater to this area of fitness.

At the NCH Healthcare System’s North Naples Campus there will be a twenty-seven room Healthy Aging Center which will open in the middle of 2007. This dedicated unit will cater to frail elderly who need to be hospitalized. Geriatricians and geriatric nurses along with pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists and nutritionists will interact daily with the patients and families to lower the time in the hospital and provide a safer experience. Patients cared for in this setting take fewer medicines while experiencing fewer falls and pressure ulcers. They also retain their ability to care for themselves. Currently, in the United States, 49% of patient days in hospitals are for people over 65. Actually, when considered, most hospitals are in the geriatric business except for pediatrics, obstetrics and psychiatry.

The conclusion: Stay involved with many diverse activities. You want to wear out gradually, not rust out.


Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.