We care for the aging

"Dancing with the Seniors" may never make it as a reality television show, but Dr. Laura Diachun will be thrilled if it sparks the tiniest flicker of interest in caring for our elderly population.

The Parkwood Hospital geriatrician has sounded an alarm across Canada about the critical need for doctors with the skills to look after our rapidly growing aging population. And Dr. Diachun, with her colleagues, is taking some creative steps to do something about it.

Not just dance steps. Bowling, golf, drama, cards and aerobics with seniors is part of the training for medical students at The University of Western Ontario, where Dr. Diachun is director of undergraduate geriatric education and co-director of the eldercare clinical clerkship. Mentorship programs, recruitment and incentive campaigns, and changes to geriatric medical training are some of the other strategies Dr. Diachun and her team are championing locally, provincially and nationally.

"Students need to see past the stereotypes. They need to see the intrigue and challenge that is geriatric medicine."

Since Western's medical students have embarked upon and embraced intergenerational recreation — the dance was their idea — the number of future physicians choosing to do an elective in geriatrics has soared. The hope is they will eventually specialize in geriatrics.

"Given Canada's current shortage of geriatricians (there are fewer than 200 while the estimated need is for more than 600), it's essential to understand how we can better teach medical students the principles of elder care," says Dr. Diachun. "As baby boomers move into their senior years, physicians will be spending half their time with patients over age 65."

Back to Stories