The so-called “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers is continuing to gain strength — and Stamford Hospital is positioning itself as one of the county’s top resources to address the issue.
“There is a real and growing need for more geriatric care, and we want to be on the front lines,” said Dr. Allison Ostroff, director of geriatric care at the Stamford Health Assessment Centers.
Although she did not have specific figures at hand, Ostroff said that the centers — at 292 Long Ridge Road in Stamford and at 75 Holly Hill Lane in Greenwich — have already seen a 33 percent increase in new consultations this year over the first three months of 2017, a trend she fully expects to continue throughout this year.
A recent expansion of the Greenwich facility, which more than doubled its space from 14,000 to 33,000 square feet, also reflects the growing need for geriatric care in the community, if not the country. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the nation’s population will grow from the current 325.7 million to 400 million in 2050; by 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be 65 and older, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970.
Ostroff, who joined Stamford Health as a geriatrician in 2010, helped create the assessment centers three years ago with Dr. Noel Robin, Stamford Hospital’s emeritus chairman of its department of medicine. She said that an initial visit to the center usually involves a 90-minute consultation by a nurse practitioner and Ostroff. The interview consists not only of reviewing medical problems and current dosages, but also frailty and depression assessments and questions about how safe the patient’s house is for his or her current needs.
“We wrap up with recommendations, which sometimes can include diagnoses,” Ostroff said, adding that depending on the case a follow-up can take place once, twice or even four times
Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are leading concerns of elder patients and their families, she said.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds; the total number of people suffering from the disease is projected to almost double every 20 years, reaching 75 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050.
“The most common question is, ‘What can I do on the proactive side?’ Exercise is the only proven behavior modification that can improve, not just slow down the process of memory loss,” Ostroff said. “We recommend aerobic exercise lasting 30 minutes, five days a week.”
Stamford also recommends brain exercises like taking up crossword puzzles, Sudoku, learning a foreign language, or something similar that a given patient has not regularly done before.
“We also encourage them to be as social as possible,” Ostroff said. “A lot of them have had a spouse or several of their friends pass on, and they can become isolated. We push them to get out, go to a senior center, interact with people who aren’t just family members.”
The efficacy of such activities remains frustratingly unproven, she said, “But doing these things certainly doesn’t hurt. Some of the newer data show that it’s really important to learn and to do something new.”
Another possible treatment involves coconut oil, which some studies have suggested could provide an alternative energy source for brain cells. Turmeric — which contains a natural chemical compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties — has successfully been used in treating some arthritis patients, and Ostroff said it could help relieve some of the inflammation of the brain in dementia patients as well.
Meanwhile, Stamford’s assessment centers are actively working to relieve primary care physicians of trying to match aging patients with the right facilities.
“We have a lot of connections in Greenwich, Stamford and Fairfield County in general,” Ostroff said. “We work with most of the assisted living and senior centers, which can really be time-consuming for primary care physicians.”
She expressed frustration with the general lack of residents and medical students entering the geriatric field. “I heard that there’s a county in Iowa that has one doctor for every 17,000 patients,” she said. “It’s a really unfortunate situation. We need to ramp up interest in working in this area.”
Regrettably, she added, “Geriatricians often have the highest job satisfaction but the lowest income. But there’s not one geriatrician that I’ve met who didn’t feel that what they’re doing really makes a difference.”