Elderly studies promoted

    With the intent of promoting the study of aging and healthcare for the elderly, the University of California is expected to receive $12 million in state and private funds to provide for six new chairs in geriatrics medicine. The Davis, Irvine, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco medical programs, as well as the Berkeley campus, will be receiving funds.

    While UC campuses in San Francisco and Irvine will each receive $2 million from state funds, UCSD received a private contribution of $2 million from the Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes medical studies at the University of California.

    “”We need to find out why some people age well, while others don’t and what can be done to make people live longer and healthier with old age,”” said Dilip Jeste, interim director of UCSD’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging. “”With the decoding of the genome, we will learn more and more about different diseases that kill or disable old people so that we can develop treatments or preventive strategies against those illnesses.””

    A press release from the UC Office of the President dated Sept. 30 stated that the primary aims of the geriatrics initiative are to recruit and maintain new UC faculty clinicians who have the skill to care for the elderly, promote “”active roles”” as educators and mentors for the teaching of UC medical students and residents, and to ensure “”best practices”” in geriatrics education throughout all campuses of the University of California.

    Jeste, who specializes in geriatric psychiatry at the UCSD School of Medicine, and who is the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, said that the $2 million in funds will arrive shortly.

    The $2 million will be distributed mostly within the medical programs at UCSD School of Medicine, but undergraduate programs will benefit from the contribution as well.

    “”My understanding is that the endowment is intended to support the geriatric medicine faculty, given the acute shortage in the field,”” Jeste said. “”However, the undergraduate program will benefit indirectly because of greater opportunities for undergraduates to participate in clinical or research projects in geriatrics.””

    The current budget cuts to the University of California are unlikely to cause any disparity in the intended funds for the program.

    “”These days, one has to worry about any possible budget cuts,”” Jeste said. “”However, I do not expect that the $2 million endowment to UCSD for the Hillblom chair will be altered. We must realize that this endowment won’t solve all the problems in geriatrics, and the concern is that other support needed to help the program grow may not be there unless we make it a priority area.””

    Advances in geriatrics studies are crucial to the well-being of future senior citizens, according to Jeste.

    “”There is critical need for training and research in geriatrics, and medicine in the future will be increasingly geriatric,”” Jeste said. “”In 1900, there were 3 million Americans over the age of 65 and today that number is 35 million. In just 30 more years, it will double to nearly 70 million.””

    The newly developed chairs will be a part of the UC Academic Geriatric Resource Program, which was first authorized by the California legislature in 1984 as a step to better shape new initiatives in the study of aging.

    In September 2000, Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation for the Geriatric Medical Education Training Act, which first initiated the drive to develop further studies in geriatrics for UC students and faculty. That same year, campuses in San Francisco and Irvine received $4 million to jumpstart the program.

    Former UC President Richard C. Atkinson encouraged other campuses to initiate studies in geriatrics. This year UCSD and UCLA will be receiving private funds.

    “”This is an unprecedented initiative in academic medical education,”” Atkinson said. “”We appreciate the state’s recognition of the university’s role in training future physicians to meet the needs of the people of this state, and we are very grateful to the two foundations that made generous contributions to support this effort.””

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